By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Lorrie Callaway, a nurse at Kahuku Hospital, went hiking
at Sacred Falls only hours before the landslide. Back at work,
she ended up tending to many of the victims.
Hospital was ready
to handle crisis
Less than a year ago, it wasBy Jaymes K. Song
feared the facility would close
Kahuku residents have said it before and they'll say it again -- they need their hospital.
That was never more evident than on Sunday when the tiny rural facility became a key treatment point in the aftermath of the landslide at Sacred Falls State Park.
Kahuku Hospital cared for 16 victims, more than any other Oahu hospital. Less than a year ago, though, the hospital was struggling and on the brink of extinction.
"Who knows what would have happened if it wasn't there," said Fire Capt. Richard Soo.
It had been 25 years since Lorrie Callaway had hiked Sacred Falls.
Even though the popular Windward Oahu hike is just a couple of minutes from her Punaluu home, Callaway, a registered nurse at Kahuku Hospital, had decided to stay away after hearing all the Hawaiian legends and because it's "so touristy."
But on this calm, sunny Mother's Day, Callaway and her firefighter husband, Pat, decided to go.
It was an uneventful trip to the waterfall at Sacred Falls State Park. Making their way back down, Callaway greeted dozens of incoming hikers with a "hello" or a "good afternoon."
All the hikers smiled or replied, she said. Some asked how much farther they had left on the 2.2-mile hike to the falls.
About two hours later, Callaway was cleaning up, mending and counseling some of those same hikers. The hikers were now lying on hospital beds -- bleeding and in shock.
Callaway and her husband had missed the landslide by less than an hour.
"It's an eerie feeling," Callaway said. "I keep on asking, "Why this day? Why were we spared?"
Kahuku Hospital is just 10 minutes from Sacred Falls. The next nearest medical facility is Castle Medical Center in Kailua, which is more than double the distance and at least triple the travel time because of the winding roads.
Only a handful of professionals staff Kahuku Hospital on Sundays to handle its normal load of about a dozen patients.
Flooded on this Sunday with more than 20 patients in four hours -- including 16 injured hikers -- the hospital implemented its disaster plan, expanding the emergency room and calling in additional staff.
Hallways became extra E.R. space, where six makeshift beds shared space with soda machines.
The mood in the emergency room following the disaster was "calm, quiet and solemn," according to other nurses.
Most of the hospital workers didn't know where their loved ones were, and worried that they could be dead. Amid their own uncertainty, though, they turned to caring for others.
The hikers "looked like they were beaten badly with something," said nurse Sylvia Kamakeeaina.
Nursing director Carol Winn Gonzales said some of the hikers couldn't believe what had happened.
"Some remembered big rocks, but they didn't know how they got down," she said. "Some only remembered screaming or walking over dead bodies."
Gonzales said the staff comforted the victims by talking to them, holding their hands and hugging them.
The hospital was threatened with closure when it faced a $1.5 million deficit last year.
Thanks to grants from the state and several foundations, the hospital has rebounded and is improving.
The hospital this year has upgraded facilities, cut its deficit by more than $600,000 and plans to widen services.
"We're not in the black yet, but we're improving monthly," said the hospital's chief executive, Wayne Fairchild. "We're beyond the struggling range."
So the hospital was ready when the call came.
"Kahuku has doctors, we only had EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) on scene," said Fire Capt. Soo. "The nearest doctors, besides the ones hiking, were at Kahuku. They played an important role."
Although the hospital was flooded with injured people, operations ran smoothly, officials said. All of the patients were treated and released that night.
And besides medical care, much aloha was dispensed on Sunday.
Gonzales said several residents offered victims a place to stay or a ride into town. Some even offered the hospital more beds.
"We're so lucky to live here," Gonzales said. "Talk about 'ohana.' This is the place."
Fairchild said his hospital is needed not only in disasters, but for normal, everyday medical care.
Police Lt. Randy Macadangdang, who supervises the Kahuku patrol district, said the facility is crucial, "saving lives" for the North Shore.
And residents can't express how much they need a hospital in their community.
"We need it, especially in a crisis," said Kahuku resident Eunice Kaanaana. "This is the only thing around here."
Medical workersBy Rod Ohira
In a 4-1\2-hour span on Sunday, city emergency medical services personnel treated 30 to 40 people injured in a rock slide at Sacred Falls.
"Eleven people were transported by ambulance and 10 were medevaced to hospitals," EMS District 1 chief Mandy Shiraki said. "The patient number was a little overwhelming and it taxed our system considerably but everybody did what they had to do and pulled through."
Shiraki praised the work of the seven paramedics -- Joseph Domingo, Mitch Tomai, David Masaki, Scott Davis, Patrick Asing, Douglas Barbieto and Patricia Jones -- and two medical technicians -- Adam Ogden and Evan Rhodes -- at the scene.
Shiraki and Donald Gates, assistant chief of operations, supervised the effort.
"The more training we do, the more prepared we are but the bottom line is we can't ever totally prepare for anything like Sacred Falls," Shiraki said. "There was a lot of strain and it was very exhausting but they performed exceptionally well.
"A lot depends on all the people at the scene and how well they can work together. Because the individual criticals were coming out one at a time, we were able to jump on them one at a time and that helped. Everybody was busy and that was good because it took focus away from the fatalities."
Shiraki was in Pearl City when he heard the dispatch call at 2:30 p.m., sending the Kahuku EMS unit to Sacred Falls. "It sounded like it was going to be bad," Shiraki said. "They were reporting 20 people injured. My first concern was how many people and how we were going to get them out."
Shiraki sent units from Waialua, Kaneohe and Kailua to Sacred Falls, which means one-quarter of the EMS units on duty Sunday were sent to Hauula. A private ambulance service was contacted to provide backup service if needed.
He also contacted Castle, Queen's, Kahuku and Wahiawa hospitals to see how many trauma cases they could handle. Shiraki arrived at Sacred Falls at 3:06 p.m. as the walking wounded were coming out. The Kahuku unit was already in action.
EMS contacted Oahu Transportation Services for a city bus and sent five minors, who had been treated, to Kahuku Hospital, says Shiraki. Shiraki then moved the medical staging area from the parking lot to farther up the trail, making it easier for personnel to work together to treat the critical cases.