Ways and Means to vote today on Makalei ambulance bill

  • photo courtesy of HAWAII COUNTY COUNCILWOMAN KAREN EOFF Makalei Fire Station.

  • Kailua-Kona Fire Station Paramedic Kyle Teves responds to a call. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file photo)

A bill to fund an ambulance for the Makalei Fire Station remains alive with a make-or-break Senate committee vote scheduled for this afternoon.

The Committee on Ways and Means, which makes decisions about state finances, will take up Senate Bill 2618 during public decision making scheduled for 12:40 p.m. in Honolulu.

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Introduced by Sens. Dru Kanuha, D-Kona, Ka‘u, with Lorraine Inouye, D-North Hawaii, Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, and other Oahu and Maui lawmakers co-sponsoring the bill, the measure seeks appropriations to establish and fund one advanced life support ambulance based at Makalei in North Kona.

In calling for an ambulance to serve the North Kona area, the bill points to an increase in population that has corresponded with a steady increase in calls for emergency medical services.

For many residents in the area, primary care services are as far as 30 miles away. The closest ambulance-equipped fire station is 8 miles away in Kailua-Kona. Other ambulances that serve the area include Keauhou, which is 12 miles away, and Waikoloa, which is 27 miles away.

In its recent form, the bill includes an appropriation of $500,000 in fiscal year 2020-21 for acquisition of a vehicle, equipment and personnel cost. The measure’s current effective date is July 1 of this year.

Senate Bill 2618 passed its first reading on Jan. 21 and was referred to hearing before the committees on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health and Ways and Means.

The proposal passed its first committee on Feb. 12 and secured public decision making before Ways and Means today. If passed by Ways and Means, it will head back to the Senate floor for a third reading and full vote in order to cross over to the House for further consideration.

In testimony submitted to Ways and Means, Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Executive Director Laura Mallery-Sayre noted the specific distances between the Makalei area and existing ambulances, and response times.

“To compound this the approximate transport time from North Kona to Kona Community Hospital is 25-30 minutes. With that being said, patients treated and transported within the North Kona district are at a disadvantage due to response and transport times and based on this, overall patient outcomes suffer,” she wrote.

The Makalei area is serviced by the Makalei Fire Station, which was completed in late 2012, but it doesn’t have an ambulance. A California donor was prepared to gift an ambulance to Makalei years ago, but eventually withdrew the offer a couple of years back because of a lack of funding to staff the vehicle.

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Attempts to secure funding for staff have been fruitless over the years since with legislation introduced in both the House and Senate dying in committees.

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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