Big Island Coronavirus Updates

KCH Cancels Elective Surgeries as Oxygen Needs Increase

By Tiffany DeMasters
September 1, 2021, 3:41 PM HST
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Kona Community Hospital has canceled all elective surgeries until further notice as the facility continues to grapple with overwhelming patient counts due to COVID-19 and increased demand for oxygen.

Record numbers of COVID patients continue to be broken at KCH. As of Wednesday, Sept. 1, KCH is treating 17 individuals for COVID-19 — three are in ICU and 14 are in the Med Surge Care and Behavioral units. Hospital officials say three patients are on ventilators and two patients have been at the hospital for several weeks being treated for ongoing coronavirus symptoms.

Hawaiʻi is experiencing a statewide shortage of oxygen. With oxygen being one of the primary treatments for COVID patients, hospital officials say their deliveries from Air Gas have gone from one delivery per month to four.

Since the end of July, Lynn Reinert, KCH’s respiratory care manager, said the hospital’s oxygen usage has tripled from approximately 40 gallons per day to 122 gallons. COVID patients are on high oxygen flow for at least a week to two weeks as their needs are big.

“It’s (Air Gas) is producing 100% of what it can,” Reinert said. “We are right now, using everything they can make, but the issue is how can we conserve what we have.”

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As of Tuesday, KCH implemented an oxygen conservation plan to ensure patients never go without the treatment. Part of that plan was canceling elective surgeries.

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Reinert said staff will be diligent about the appropriate oxygen needs for each patient. The plan also includes patient discharge planning.

“Weʻre going to unplug flow meters and use oxygen concentrators for lower flow,” she added. “Weʻre working on what can we do to give them (patients) the best treatment possible, with safe oxygen amounts.”

Hilo Medical Center also reports a doubled increase in oxygen use. However, officials say, they are still determining doing elective surgeries. At this point, the hospital is ensuring its supply chain is still there.

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This concern over an oxygen shortage is unlike anything Reinert has ever seen.

“It’s incredible, in a very bad way,” she said.

Reinert said the best way to keep a shortage from happening is for people not to be admitted to the hospital.

“Try to stay away from COVID,” Reinert pleaded. “This Delta variant is 1,000 times more contagious than the original virus. Stay away from people, that helps. The fewer people we have come in the better off we are.”

KCH officials say the best precautions against the virus still include: vaccination, masking up, social distancing and frequent hand washing.

There are currently 74 COVID-related hospitalizations islandwide. Thirteen COVID-related deaths have occurred at KCH.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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