Trauma burden eased with Mahelona’s new ER

Two years worth of effort came to fruition last week when Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital in Kapa‘a celebrated the grand opening of its new emergency department.

The ceremony marked the official opening, though Mahelona had been operating a temporary emergency room since Dec. 10.

“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Dr. Jorge Simental, medical director of Mahelona’s emergency room.

Simental was named director two months ago.

“The ability to have another hospital is a really great asset for the community,” he said. “Everything from Kapa‘a on up (north), we’re going to be taking care of.”

Simental said increasing island population and tourist traffic dictated the need for another emergency room.

Since the temporary emergency room opened in December, Simental and regional CEO Orianna Skomoroch said more than 400 patients have been treated there, and since last Wednesday’s grand opening, that load has doubled to eight to 10 patients a day.

The five-bed facility carries a staff of six emergency medicine nurses and two clerks, with more positions likely to open, Skomoroch said.

“We hope to expand in the next six to 12 months,” Simental said.

Skomoroch said that she hopes to open five more acute-care beds, though she has no timetable. She also said there are no plans for an operating room or surgery team at Mahelona.

As such, all life-threatening injuries and illnesses will still go to Wilcox, said Lizanne Gonzalez, manager of the emergency department and acute care.

“We’ll be a trauma bypass,” she said.

Skomoroch said she is currently working with the state Department of Emergency Medical Services and American Medical Response, the sole provider of ambulance service on Kaua‘i, to bring EMS ambulances to the hospital.

“We have to go through every protocol on different diagnoses that can be treated in our ER,” she said.

Skomoroch said she worked very closely with Kauai Community Health Center and Wilcox Hospital in assessing the need for another emergency medicine department and carrying out the plan to install it.

“We were responding to the need of the community that wanted a ‘critical access’ hospital,” Skomoroch said.

The temporary emergency department started at the same time the hospital received critical access designation last December.

The permanent staff stands at six emergency-trained nurses and two clerks, though there could be openings for more positions soon, Simental said.

One of 12 board-certified emergency physicians contracted through Sterling Corporation is always on duty, Skomoroch said.

Construction costs for the emergency department came to $850,000, she said. Equipment costs totaled $300,000.

• Ford Gunter, associate editor, may be reached at fgunter@kauaipubco.com, or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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