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FEMA nurses bound for Maui hospital

Assistance comes as Maui Memorial deals with rise in hospitalizations

Maui Memorial Medical Center expects to receive relief nurses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the coming weeks to help deal with an increase in COVID-19 cases. As of Thursday, there were 28 patients hospitalized with the virus at Maui Memorial. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui Memorial Medical Center will be receiving Federal Emergency Management Agency nurses this coming week and the next, “to offer relief staffing, just as in past surges.”

Maui Health, which operates Maui Memorial, said in a news release Thursday that it is unsure of how many relief nurses the hospital will receive but is grateful for any number to assist with staffing.

Hospitals across the country have faced shortstaffing issues throughout the pandemic as cases and exposure forced many health care workers to quarantine. During the summer, while dealing with a wave of new cases due to the delta variant, Hawaii received about 630 FEMA-funded health care workers, including about 40 at Maui Memorial. With the current surge in cases fueled by the omicron variant, facilities are once again facing pressure to juggle an increase in hospitalizations with a shortage of staff.

Maui Health did not respond to questions about the number or percentage of hospital staff who may be out due to the virus or other reasons, but it did say that “as Maui residents, employees are also contracting the virus circulating throughout the community and remain isolated at home.”

On Oahu, the Queen’s Health Systems declared an “internal state of emergency” at two of its Oahu hospitals this week, the Associated Press reported. More than 800 local health care workers were unable to work this week because of close contacts or confirmed COVID-19 infections, a Queen’s official said.

Across the state Thursday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said there were 352 people hospitalized with COVID; at the peak of the delta variant there were 448 hospitalizations. Out of the 352 hospitalized, 140 are vaccinated.

Of the COVID-hospitalized patients in Hawaii, 37 were in the ICU, or half the rate of when the delta cases were peaking, Green said in a message on his Facebook page.

At Maui Memorial there were 28 patients with COVID as of Thursday, which is much higher than a month ago when there were four COVID patients who were all unvaccinated.

Of the 28 patients, 15 are fully vaccinated and two of those individuals received a booster dose. Thirteen were unvaccinated. One vaccinated patient and one unvaccinated patient were in the ICU, while one vaccinated patient was on a ventilator, according to Maui Health’s website.

Maui Health said the boosted individuals were not at the hospital for COVID-19, but had been admitted for other medical reasons. The hospital learned they had COVID during routine testing of all inpatients upon admission.

Without releasing specific numbers, Maui Health said the hospital census “is quite busy with non-COVID-19 admissions and emergency department visits as well.”

The hospital operator said this is typical for this time of year and that “emergency department volumes have increased to pre-pandemic levels with an influx of individuals with COVID-19 concerns.”

Dr. Michael Shea, chief medical director for Maui Health and co-lead for its Emergency Operations Center team, said Thursday that “I do not believe Maui County’s COVID-19 numbers have peaked.”

“Based on the experiences we are watching throughout the world — South Africa, the UK and areas on the Mainland — where the surges began before Hawaii, we are at least a few weeks from our peak,” Shea said. “However, this peak timing will ultimately depend on what precautions our community takes to prevent spread.”

Hawaii is currently averaging 3,518 new cases a day, a 72 percent increase over the 2,045.6 cases it was averaging two weeks ago. Maui County has the highest positivity rate in the state at 22.5 percent and is averaging 496 new cases a day. Honolulu County continues to see the bulk of the cases with 2,559 new cases a day and a test positivity rate of 21.2 percent, while Hawaii County is averaging 274 cases and a test positivity rate of 19 percent, followed by Kauai County at 189 cases and 17.4 percent.

Maui Health encouraged people to get vaccinated and said it continues to hold its vaccination clinics at its hospital lobby. For more information, visit www.mauihealth.org/covidvaccine.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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