Maui’s Shortage Of Nurses Reaches Critical Condition - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Bridget Kaumeheiwa

Bridget Kaumeheiwa is a Maui native with a bachelor's degree in physical therapy and master’s in public health.


They sneak out of the house before dawn, coffee in hand, hoping that the workday will not be more emotionally draining than the day before.

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They return late, never punctual, staying past their shifts and putting their patients first — to finish a note, complete a treatment, or counsel a family member.

Hungry because they skipped lunch, exhausted, yet keyed up on adrenaline, they remove their scrubs outside the house to keep their families safe, and finally enter, looking like they just left a war zone.

They are our masked heroes, our front-line nurses who were likely in combat less than an hour ago, fighting to curb an infection, clear an airway, restart a heart.

Day after day I watch my husband struggle to recover between shifts, where even sleep is work, his subconscious snagging on the echoes of patient struggles.

Maui Memorial Medical Center . Emergency room area. 3 aug 2016.
Covid-19 is straining workloads for nurses in Maui County. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

As spouses of acute care nurses, we become accustomed to the funky hours, the beleaguered empathy that morphs into anger and despair, the permanent mask lines on our loved ones faces.

We watch them barely enjoy their days off, never enough consecutive hours to truly unwind and escape the revolving door of sickness and suffering. As the number of Covid cases climb and Maui County’s only acute hospital is inundated, I fear not only for my husband’s physical and mental health but for our whole community.

Make no mistake — injury, disease and debilitating conditions are a part of living. Any of us could require a hospital bed at Maui Memorial Medical Center at any time for any reason.

Youth soccer players with leg or head trauma, students with strep throat or a staph infection. The elderly with heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia.

Our relatives, cousins, friends of our aunties, anyone in poor health, those doing high risk activities and those who have not boosted their immune system with lifesaving vaccines, are even more likely to show up at the emergency room and ultimately get admitted. They are placed into a system that is straining under the cumulative stress of being asked to do too much with too little for too long.

‘Grueling Job’

A shortage of nurses, precarious before the pandemic, is now critical. Critical status means people who would have lived with proper care may suffer and die.

Though my husband has done some incredible feats during his career as a registered nurse, cloning himself is not one of them. He, like his co-workers, has only so much emotional bandwidth to continue this grueling job founded on caring.

Maui has the greatest percentage of visitors per capita in the state (approaching 30% of its population on any given day), and it has one of the lowest nurse-per-citizen ratios in the country. Add the squall of Covid-related admissions and we have the perfect storm of health care worker burnout.

It is frustrating to see the burden compounded by those refusing to mask up, distance, stay home when sick, and get vaccinated because they don’t believe in science.

We have the perfect storm of health care worker burnout.

Then when they can’t breathe, they seek medical help. As the pandemic chips away at our collective mental health, spouses and other close family of nurses get an intimate panorama of this slow-motion crisis. Yet we feel helpless to mend the reckless damage our treasured nurses are barely surviving. In the next month we will watch even more nurses get overwhelmed and overcome. My husband is one of them.

Nurses are more likely than any health care worker to lose their lives to Covid. They have been sacrificing their health and their families for the sake of total strangers.

Enough with the colorful mahalo banners, plastic hero buttons and newspaper features.

Much more needs to be addressed, including the burden visitors place on our health care system. I’ll save that for another column. Right now, I am going to give my husband a hug.

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About the Author

Bridget Kaumeheiwa

Bridget Kaumeheiwa is a Maui native with a bachelor's degree in physical therapy and master’s in public health.


Latest Comments (0)

This has been a critical need since ________? What have elected officials done to facilitate a solution? We will have this situation a decade from now because of their failure. Have our capabilities to handle a pandemic increased over these past 3 years? What are the plans to prepare for the next pandemic? Mahalo for all the front line personnel are doing - you deserve much more support, foresight, and $$ from the 'authorities'.

ClaudeRains · 3 months ago

Thanks Bridget for this amazing piece! We also need to train more physicians to assist both ER and ICU. The healthcare system is going to collapse with some employees/interns working over 30 hours straight, a quarter day off and then expected to work full time the next day. A weekend off is unheard of. The burnout is real due to lack of sleep and during work, there is no time for breaks to eat or pee. The best way we could help is to not get sick. Please be responsible people and have empathy for our tired healthcare workers.

MK1309 · 3 months ago

Well stated, kudos to your husband. Wishing you and yours safe passage through this difficult time.I must admit that many days I wish I wasn’t an RN. the patient care is the best, but corporate healthcare and people’s inability to take personal responsibility make my job very hard.Kudos to your husband and to you for uour support.

weenerdoggs · 3 months ago

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