No ambulance for Kona

  • An ambulance turns onto Waianuenue Avenue from Highway 19 in Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

KAILUA-KONA — At the request of the state Department of Health, legislators have shelved a bill that would have funded two ambulances for Hawaii Island, including one at the Makalei Fire Station.

That’s because money was already allocated by the 2018 Legislature for an ambulance in Puna, and the state Department of Health wants to first focus on getting that operation up and running — and funded for future years.

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Last session, some $4.5 million was appropriated for ambulances in three counties — Hawaii County, the City and County of Honolulu and Kauai County, according to Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce S. Anderson. Gov. David Ige signed the State Budget, House Bill 1900, into law on June 22, 2018, as Act 53.

Of the $4.5 million, $1.5 million was allocated to Hawaii County to acquire an ambulance and staff it, according to budget worksheets.

“The newly-appropriated Puna ambulance is currently being placed in service by the County of Hawaii. Discussions are ongoing to extend the funding for the new Puna ambulance in service and its uncertain future,” Anderson told a Senate committee last week. “Given the resources required to place the new Puna ambulance in service and its uncertain future, we respectfully request Legislature delay implementation of a Makalei ambulance until the new unit in Puna has been fully incorporated into the County of Hawaii EMS system.”

Janice Okubo, spokeswoman with the Department of Health, said the new Puna unit has been funded for fiscal year 2019-20 only. It adds to the unit already stationed in Pahoa.

The DOH is asking for continued funding for the unit beyond 2020, Okubo added.

The Hawaii Fire Department, meanwhile, is currently seeking bids to furnish one ambulance for the island to replace a unit in the Waimea area. The solicitation for bids was posted Jan. 18 and closes Feb. 22.

Steve Wilhelm, with the county Purchasing Division, said that while the county is initially asking for a single ambulance in South Kohala, the bid request states the number could increase to two so that the Puna ambulance can be acquired without a second bidding process. If that occurs, an addendum would be added to secure the second ambulance for Puna.

“While the Legislature allocated the funds, the contract with the state has been signed by the county and just needs final signatures from the state. We are anticipating the contract to be signed and returned to us so that the funds can be appropriated any day now,” Wilhelm said via email.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health took up Senate Bill 877 on Feb. 1 at which point Anderson asked that the measure be deferred until next year.

The bill, co-introduced by Sens. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka’u) and two Oahu Democrats with Sen. Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) among the co-sponsors, sought $100,000 in fiscal year 2019-20 and an another $100,000 in fiscal year 2020-21 for ambulances in North Kona and Puna.

It costs about $1.5 million to fund a unit for the first year, and $1.1 million for recurring years.

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Kanuha, reached Wednesday afternoon, commended the Legislature for funding the ambulance in Puna.

“I’m just really happy that they have the funding for the ambulance and it can’t come soon enough,” he said, noting he will continue to work with his counterparts and the fire department to secure an ambulance for Makalei. “I’m still gonna keep pushing.”