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Big Island hospitals ready for Iselle’s landfall

August 7, 2014 - 11:17pm

Downed power lines will be a major concern once Hurricane Iselle makes landfall today, but Big Island hospitals expect to keep the lights on.

At Kona Community Hospital and Kohala Hospital, all essential services will remain fully staffed and operational, spokeswoman Judy Donovan said Thursday morning. The medical oncology and infusion departments were rescheduling all Thursday and Friday appointments.

“Both hospitals have medical and non-medical supplies on hand to last through the duration of the emergency including pharmaceuticals, food, water and fuel for emergency power generators,” Donovan said in an email. “Further, all departments are prepared to operate according to downtime procedures in the event of power failure.”

The hospital tested the generator twice in the last week, topped off fuel tanks and has a week’s supply of “everything we could possibly need,” she added by phone.

Kona Community and Kohala Hospitals provide a shelter for patients, employees and their immediate family members, if needed. Donovan urged other family members to stay home and stay safe during the storm.

North Hawaii Community Hospital will also remain fully staffed and operational, said Wayne Higaki, NHCH chief development officer. All nonessential employees that do not have a direct effect on patient care have been sent home to be with their families.

Higaki said NHCH does disaster drills on a regular basis, that includes preparation for hurricanes. He said the hospital has two generators available. Both have enough fuel to run the hospital at full power for two days without refueling and six weeks with just emergency services working.

The hospital’s incident command center was activated at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.

“We have activated the hospital’s emergency preparedness plan for hurricanes and have essential items like drinking water on hand,” he said. “The hospital is open as we would ordinarily be, and the only thing that we ask is that people don’t decide to shelter here. It’s not a shelter.”

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii echoed that request, asking the public is not to shelter in hospitals or hospital parking lots.

Thursday afternoon, officials were not calling in extra employees, but everyone on staff and scheduled to be at work was being kept there for their shifts, Donovan said.

“Everybody is considered to be essential,” she said, adding that even nonclinical staff like herself can help around the hospital.

East Hawaii hospitals are prepared, too, an official there said.

“When it (the storm) hits, if you could look down on Hilo, we’ll probably be the only building in town with the lights on,” said Dan Brinkman, Hawaii Health Systems Corp.’s East Hawaii interim regional CEO.

The hospital is equipped with two large diesel generators that are capable of supplying 10 days of uninterrupted emergency power.

“We test them monthly,” he said.

The hospital is a fuel priority for Civil Defense, once shipments are able to resume, he said, ensuring that the facility can continue to treat patients using its wide array of equipment and machinery that rely on electricity.

“Being on the Neighbor Islands, we’re isolated, so we definitely have made preparations. We’re at the top on fuel replenishment lists, once the roads are passable,” Brinkman said.

Hospital personnel have been busy over the last week preparing for Hurricanes Iselle and Julio, and Brinkman said today around 11:30 a.m. that the medical center was “as ready as we can be.”

“We have big emergency management plans for just about everything, which we need here on the island, since we’re prone to natural disasters,” he said. “We’ve been tracking this for five days, and we started preparations long before today.”

He said that the hospital would keep a full operating room team on hand throughout the storm in the event they are needed.

“We keep at the bare minimum a two-week supply of everything: food, water, medications, blood supply. And we’re tracking our staffing to make sure that we always have enough here at the hospital at any time,” Brinkman said.

Accommodations have been made at the hospital to house employees who may not be able to leave after their shifts due to the storm, and a day care center has been set up to look after children of employees.

“Part of our preparations has also included encouraging the discharge of some patients who can go home before the storm to open up beds. And a lot of elective work has been canceled, postponed or rescheduled to make sure we have enough capacity,” he said.

One area where the hospital will be at the mercy of the storm involves very serious injuries that might ordinarily be transported to Oahu. The hospital regularly uses a helicopter or a plane to transfer those patients who require a higher degree of care than the facility is able to offer in East Hawaii, but those vehicles won’t be available during the storm, Brinkman said.

“We’ll have a 24-hour period where we will not have the ability to transfer people off the island. Those planes have been relocated some place safe out of the storm, and that’s not an irresponsible thing,” he said. “If a necessary asset like that is destroyed, it doesn’t help anybody.”

Brinkman added that the hospital has taken extra precautions to ensure it can keep patients safe until such time as they can be transferred safely.

“From something as basic as making sure we have extra blood supply, to having our OR team available during the duration, as well as doing other things to stabilize patients to keep them safe for special procedures off island,” he said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at

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