WAILUKU >> Emergency helicopter service would be delayed to outlying areas of Maui because of flaws in a state plan, according to the medical director of a similar program on the mainland.
Under the plan, a helicopter based in Kahului would fly to Kula to pick up ground ambulance paramedics, then fly to the emergency site. The service is scheduled to start Aug. 1.
William Raboff, a part-time Maui resident who is emergency air medical director at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, N.M., said the proposal would add 23 minutes to the response time, compared with a typical four minutes for a departure.
Raboff said flying a helicopter to the 3,000-foot level in Kula also adds more risk to the flight crew.
Some have also criticized the lack of a full-time medical crew, including a registered nurse, on the helicopter.
Chris Barth, a registered nurse at Maui Memorial Medical Center, said private firms have also indicated an interest in providing a higher level of service at no cost to taxpayers.
Scotty Schaefer, a paramedic and member of the group who developed the emergency procedures for Maui County, said based on talks with pilots, the helicopter will take about 10 minutes to travel from Kahului to Kula before leaving for an emergency.
Schaefer said the service relies on picking up paramedics in Kula, because paying for a full-time staff to be on call would be so expensive the state would be unable to fund the new service.
"It's a way for us in a time of reduced budget to keep it alive and going," Schaefer said.
The helicopter will use paramedics from Kula, Schaefer said, because there is a greater likelihood they will be available and not already on a call. Staff in Kula will be expanded to six to provide 24-hour coverage, from four paramedics staffing 12 hours a day.
He said even with 10 minutes to gather a crew, the time for making an emergency transport will drop, since a ground transport from Hana to Wailuku can take 2 1/2 hours.
The helicopter will also serve Molokai and Lanai where there is no hospital capable of treating trauma victims, he said.
Schaefer said according to studies, operating a private emergency helicopter ambulance service in the county without government subsidies is unfeasible.
Under the plan, the helicopter will be based at Pacific Helicopter Tours Inc. at Kahului Airport and respond to emergency calls by flying first to pick up the paramedics at a ball field makai of the Kula Fire Station.
The state has agreed to provide $388,500 annually to integrate the ground ambulance service in Kula with the emergency helicopter operation.
Both the county and the state are contributing $611,500 each for the helicopter operation annually.
County of Maui