Lt. Gov. Josh Green texted the U.S. surgeon general over the weekend to encourage him to provide Hawaii and other states with more support to avoid rationing health care.
Green also told Gov. David Ige and members of the COVID-19 leadership team that he doesn’t support Hawaii’s health care rationing plan, and that he hopes they will rescind it, Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Green said he does not support health care rationing for any state — a message that he plans to take national this week.
Hawaii’s positivity rate has dropped, along with the number of active cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations. However, Green said the state came dangerously close to being unable to meet everyone’s health care needs. The state gained breathing room only after it used $63 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to bring in about 650 critical care nurses and respiratory therapists, he said.
“I have reached out to the surgeon general (on Saturday) to encourage the administration to support every state so that no one can ration care,” Green told the Star-Advertiser on Sunday. “Every state should reject rationing care.”
He added, “My recommendation is that the Biden administration encourage governors across the country to do what Hawaii did, which is to bring in extra support when they reach their capacity.”
Even with that support, Hawaii came so close to rationing health care this month that Ige signed an order granting immunity if the state’s health care system implemented “crisis standards of care.”
That plan, which was updated Wednesday, has drawn criticism because it uses age as a tiebreaker under certain emergency conditions, which prioritize younger people over those ages 65 and over.
Green’s push for more federal resources — and to get Hawaii to back away from considering health care rationing — comes as state Department of Health officials reported 12 new coronavirus-related deaths and 474 infections Sunday, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 714 fatalities and 75,480 cases.
Green also posted a letter Saturday taking his message to a social media population of 90,000.
In the letter, Green wrote, “A 75 year old woman called me recently, and she was frightened. She had read that ‘crisis standards of care’, also known as rationing health care, might be imposed in Hawaii if COVID hospitalizations kept increasing. She was terrified that if she got sick with COVID, she might not get the life-saving medical treatment she needed.”
Green said he told the woman that Hawaii officials “should move heaven and earth to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”
But he added, “Right now, no one can honestly look this woman in the eye and tell her we have done everything in our power to prevent this from happening.”
Green said coronavirus is ravaging states like Idaho, Alaska and Texas, and their overwhelmed health care facilities have to turn away patients.
“We pushed right up to the threshold, and now have pulled back,” he said. “If we had reached 500 COVID-19 hospitalizations, our system would have cracked.”
Green said 327 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Sunday, down 27% from a peak of 448 on Sept. 3. The number of active cases also has dropped, to 7,725 from a peak of 11,527 on Sept. 3, he said.
Green said the statewide positivity rate had fallen to 5.88% Sunday.
He said 66% of Hawaii’s population is now fully vaccinated, and by today at least 75% of the population will have had at least one dose.
Green said increased vaccinations should protect Hawaii more in the next surge. But he cautioned that the state must plan to ensure that health care resources aren’t overwhelmed.
If that happens, Green said, Hawaii could rapidly stand up field hospitals or build a 1,000-bed emergency facility at the Hawai‘i Convention Center with the help of FEMA. He said the state also could fill empty facilities like the Hawaii State Hospital with patients.
He supports reassigning health care workers to support strained hospitals and using federal assistance and Cares Act funding to bring in additional nurses and doctors like the health care Association of Hawaii did last month.