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Behind the scenes: What it took to keep Hawai‘i safe

Posted on Oct 3, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i head Hilton Raethel.

We’ve all seen the courage on the COVID-19 front lines as doctors, nurses and staff cared for those hit hard by the virus. But what we didn’t see was the intense, behind-the-scenes coordination between Governor Ige and his team, private sector health care partners, mayors, federal, state and county agencies and community providers as the state navigated a never-ending series of crises with thousands of lives at stake. At the center for many of the discussions was Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i (HAH). He became the voice of the healthcare community because HAH represents 170 organizations in the state, including all the major hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Raethel praised the collaboration he saw among local leaders throughout the pandemic. He said this spirit of aloha and community is unique to Hawai‘i and one of the reasons our state has been as successful as it has in confronting this pandemic.

Gov. Ige and healthcare partners for #HIGotVaccinated.

Q.  From HAH’s perspective, what made the pandemic so challenging from the start? “There were so many unknowns about this new virus: How lethal was it? How did it spread? Who was the most vulnerable?  Early on, there was a lot of uncertainty about what to do at a very basic level. One of the early crises involved PPE and the worldwide shortage. All of a sudden we’re using PPE at a much higher rate and manufacturers couldn’t keep up. And the Trump administration was slow to recognize the gravity of the situation.”

Q.  How would you describe the Ige team’s leadership during the pandemic? “I think we were incredibly fortunate to have the leadership of the governor, his team and his departments. Because I interact with health care leaders across the nation, I hear first-hand what happens in other states. What we have in Hawai‘i is unique — a level of collaboration where we can work together and communicate with each other. In other states, you don’t have that same level of support for hospitals, strange as it might seem. The governor instituting a quarantine for travelers was a very controversial decision, but it was one of the things that protected us as a state, even though it had a dramatic effect on the economy. It was a very brave move to protect the people of Hawai‘i.”

Some of The Queen’s Medical Center nursing staff on the front lines.

Q.  What were two of the most dramatic moments of the pandemic the public never saw? “One was when Airgas told us on a Friday morning that Hawai‘i was going to run short of oxygen in 10 days. That afternoon we met with Governor Ige, HI-EMA, DOH, FEMA, HAH, the Attorney General’s office and others. Those discussions continued over the next 48 hours. Long story short, we were able to avert that crisis because we had all of those people coming together quickly. The other close call we had was our labor shortage for the Delta variant surge where we were literally days away from going into crisis standards of care. That meant we would have had to say to some people  “You’re sick, but we can’t accommodate you in our hospitals because we don’t have the staff.” For that emergency, we were able to get FEMA funding quickly for more staff because everyone did their part in record time. These were VERY REAL CRISES that could have resulted in huge, catastrophic effects for the state of Hawai‘i. We should never forget what we accomplished together during the pandemic. It demonstrates what you can do when you work together and focus on the goal, not the politics.”


Read more in the October Capitol Connection newsletter.

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