In Hawaii, providing timely and affordable healthcare is made even more challenging by our remote location. We are about 2,400 miles away from California, over 3,800 miles away from Japan, and over 4,700 miles away from Australia. It takes more time and more money to import medicine, medical equipment, and supplies. We have to plan ahead for what we need now and in the future. During emergencies, we have to rely on what we have on hand.
Another challenge: because much of Hawaii’s population is centered on Honolulu County, rural and neighbor islands have an even greater difficulty accessing healthcare. The neighbor islands have higher rates of preventable deaths and preventable hospital readmission rates, according to the Hawaii Healthcare Project’s “State of Hawaii Healthcare Innovation Plan” (2014).
There are many ways we could improve healthcare in Hawaii, and I’d like to pitch one more idea: a Hawaii hospital ship. This floating medical facility could carry medical equipment and supplies, rooms for medical and support staff, operating rooms, patient beds, and boat docks. It addresses the problem of Hawaii’s geographic separation, not just from the rest of the world, but from each other.
A Hawaii hospital ship could operate on a regular schedule, stopping at harbors for 1-3 days as needed, and making a circuit of the islands once a month. Hawaii has ten state-managed harbors on six islands, and I would add one on the North Shore of Oahu – Port Allen (Kauai), Nawiliwili (Kauai), Haleiwa (Oahu), Barber’s Point (Oahu), Honolulu (Oahu) for repairs and supplies, Kaunakakai (Molokai), Kaumalapau (Lanai), Kahului (Maui), Hana (Maui), Kawaihae (Hawaii), Hilo (Hawaii), and back again.
Here are 4 ways Hawaii could benefit from a hospital ship:
* Regular medical services to remote areas. A hospital ship could deliver medicines and medical supplies, and perform lab tests. Ship doctors could provide consulting services or second opinions and assist with operations. Being able to “share” medical equipment could lower costs, and it could save money for patients who could not afford to fly to Honolulu.
* Search and rescue support services. A hospital ship could be diverted to aid the survivors of airplane, cruise ship, and boat survivors.
* Emergency services during natural disasters. The regular medical schedule could be suspended to deal with a natural disaster by offering medical aid, delivering supplies, and transporting aid workers and the injured. It’s an important part of crisis-planning for our state.
* Quarantine facilities. A hospital ship could be converted to a quarantine ship in case of an outbreak of disease or illness.
Realistically, I don’t think a hospital ship is affordable. We just don’t have a large enough population to make it a reasonable option now. But we could take the long view and start planning for the future. We need to be able to help each other, because help from outside Hawaii is so far away.
Would a hospital ship solve a problem in healthcare and emergency response? How could we make it work? Why do you think it wouldn’t work for Hawaii?