UH-Manoa hyperbaric chamber reopens

KAILUA-KONA — The state’s only Hyperbaric Treatment Center (HTC) able to treat divers suffering from decompression sickness is up and running again after several months offline, according to a release from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Located at Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu and run by UH-Manoa under the supervision of its John A. Burns School of Medicine, HTC fell out of service on Oct. 19, 2017, “due to unforeseen circumstances.” It was reopened on Jan. 15.

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Treating dozens of divers every year, and considering the next closest hyperbaric chambers are located on Guam and the mainland, the news allows divers to get treatment quickly across the Hawaiian Islands, as it will be available at all hours, seven days a week to those in need of treatment.

“We have reopened HTC with a crew of dedicated physicians, nurses and technicians,” said Susan Steinemann, the center’s interim medical director. “We understand the essential role the center plays for our local dive community and are diligently working to a complete re-establishment of services.”

Nine physicians trained in hyperbaric techniques have been recruited to provide service at HTC since the facility closed because of a physician coverage shortage, the release stated.

“Resuming this critical service was a top priority for the University of Hawaii and the John A. Burns School of Medicine,” said Jerris Hedges, dean of the medical school. “There is still much to be done, but we are very pleased that we can once again provide this high-quality, very specialized care to the people of Hawaii.”

The center has also resumed non-emergency hyperbaric medical care for certain types of wounds and tissue damage caused by radiation therapy, per the release.

A $1.5 million upgrade to HTC, funded by the state Legislature, is scheduled to begin in 2018 and includes renovation of the 40-year-old chamber and supporting systems, the release stated. HTC has also recently purchased new equipment to improve medical care including a ventilator, intravenous pumps and monitors.

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“We are actively investigating ways to maintain funding for HTC operations, as current emergency operations are not financially sustainable.” Steinemann said. “Community support is essential if we are to maintain our current level of emergency services, and we thank state lawmakers for their ongoing support.”

Anyone suffering from a decompression injury is advised to first go to the nearest emergency department for immediate treatment.