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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 28, 2006

Stopgap approach must end for medevac

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The state gets one more reprieve today when the Hawai'i National Guard is expected to announce that an Alaska unit will provide civilian medevac service for O'ahu. But it's getting to be a little too close for comfort.

The announcement comes as great news as the Hilo, Hawai'i-based unit that had been providing service was recently told to prepare to deploy to Iraq and discontinue O'ahu medevac service on Sunday.

But let's not kid ourselves. This serves as just another Band-Aid on an ongoing problem. After a year of making do, the state simply cannot keep relying on eleventh-hour emergency actions to save the only air emergency service available on O'ahu. A consistent, long-term plan is needed.

The National Guard has already extended its effort twice this year.

But the war in Iraq has made heavy demands on all military personnel. The Army discontinued its Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic program, which for nearly three decades offered a free service to O'ahu. The enormous benefits meant the state saved nearly $90 million, while more than 7,100 patients were transported to urgent medical care.

The Army recommended private contractors when it discontinued MAST last year. But state Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the state is hoping the free MAST option will resume here because of the Army's live-fire exercises. Health Department officials have yet to solicit or respond to any private proposals.

The state must no longer continue to rely on the National Guard as a backup. Nor should it assume that MAST services will resume here, especially if the Iraq War continues with more troop deployment.

It's time for the state to seriously look at private options and end the risky stopgap approach to medical transport services.