An ambulance for the Makalei area moved one step closer to reality Tuesday after a measure to fund and staff the proposal was passed by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
In its latest form, Senate Bill 2618, does not includes an appropriation. However, Sen. Dru Kanuha, a Democrat representing Kona and Ka‘u who introduced the bill with co-sponsorship of other Big Island, Oahu and Maui legislators, said that amendment is a procedural way of negotiating with the House on ultimate funding.
“Although the measure still has a long road ahead, it was great to see SB2618 SD1 passed in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means today,” Kanuha said Tuesday afternoon. “With Kona Community Hospital over 30 minutes away, I am very pleased that the Legislature is taking our community’s access to essential emergency services seriously.”
The measure, co-sponsored by Sens. Lorraine Inouye, D-North Hawaii, and Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, among Oahu and Maui lawmakers, seeks appropriations to establish and fund one advanced life support ambulance based at Makalei in North Kona.
It 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.
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, where it passed. The bill 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.
Testimony submitted to Ways and Means in support of the measure came from Mayor Harry Kim, North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, Hilo Medical Center, Hawaii Fire Department and concerned individuals.
Frank Sayre, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation, whose mission is to support the Hawaii Fire Department, submitted written testimony in favor of advancing the bill.
“Our County is huge and our population grouping is disbursed. North Kona is one of the fastest growing districts here. Currently, we are served by the ambulance at the Kailua station — the busiest on the Island. If they are already out on a call the back-up ambulance is either from Keauhou, South Kohala or Captain Cook stations. The response time from any of these stations can be from 30 to 45 minutes. This is can result in very bad outcomes. From a moral standpoint this is unacceptable. From a legal standpoint it’s very dangerous for the State and the County,” his testimony stated.
But the Department of Health doesn’t see a need for an ambulance for the North Kona fire station.
“We understand the wish for adding a Makalei unit. We recently reviewed the Makalei patient volume. The patient volume is very low. We will continue to discuss the situation,” Dr. Alvin C. Bronstein, Department of Health Emergency Medical Services & Injury Prevention Systems Branch chief, said in an emailed response on Feb. 7.
He indicated the DOH is working to secure funding for ambulances already in service throughout the state and not looking to add anything new.
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.
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.