While at least 80 people died in Lahaina, health officials say hospitals have not been overwhelmed by injuries.

Relatively few people have been hospitalized with serious injuries from the Maui wildfires this week, local health leaders said Friday.

In the most recent figures, 12 people who were injured in the fires remained hospitalized across the state Thursday night, according to Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, an umbrella group for most of the state’s medical facilities.

Raethel emphasized that total did not include patients who had already been discharged. 

But he said it was unlikely at this point that many more people with serious injuries would come for treatment as firefighters have largely contained the fires although flare-ups persisted.

The remains of a motorcycle is photographed Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
The remains of a motorcycle in Lahaina is an example of the devastation wrought by wildfires earlier this week. Officials fear the death toll will go beyond the 67 currently confirmed as the search and rescue effort continues. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

This holds true for Maui Memorial Medical Center, the island’s major hospital.

“We have not admitted a patient for a fire-related injury since the first night,” said the hospital’s chief operating officer Wade Ebersole.

People were forced to evacuate Lahaina on Wednesday as fires fanned by an offshore hurricane spread rapidly.

The hospital treated about 50 victims total, Ebersole said, though he was unsure exactly how many remained as of Friday afternoon. A press release from Thursday evening said there were six.

Burn victims are different than victims of other types of natural disasters. Somebody who’s broken a bone might still be able to remain mobile for a few days before seeking medical care, said Raethel.

Burns on the other hand are very painful and traumatic. “So if someone had a burn that required hospitalization from the fire, we would already know about it. So they’re either dead or they didn’t get burned,” he said.

Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke had told CNN Wednesday that hospitals were overwhelmed with burn victims and people suffering from smoke inhalation. Raethel disputed that characterization. 

“At no point was Maui Memorial Hospital overwhelmed,” Raethel said.

Luke’s office did not return a request for comment.

Man smiling in headshot
No new patients have been admitted to Maui Memorial Health Center since the first night of the fire, said COO Wade Ebersole. (Photo pulled from Maui Health)

“I think that some folks were hesitant to come in because there was reporting that there was an overwhelming amount of volume,” Ebersole said of Maui Memorial Health Center.

Some victims were transferred to Oahu, but that wasn’t due to capacity concerns. Oahu hospitals, which include Straub Burn Unit, are better equipped to handle certain severe injuries. 

In fact, Straub Burn Unit is the only burn unit in the state. Its resources include burn specialists as well as equipment like tubs for people to soak their damaged skin.

“On an average day, people don’t get really severe burns. So it doesn’t make sense to have a burn specialist at all the different hospitals across the state – we just don’t get enough burn cases to warrant it,” said Raethel.  

With the death toll anticipated to rise, the gap between the confirmed dead and the wounded will only widen – a “very unusual” dynamic, he said. 

The City and County of Honolulu is not expecting its hospitals to be overwhelmed, said spokesman Scott Humber.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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