State Health Department Might Quash Honolulu's Fire-EMS Merger

Michael Levine/Civil Beat

The Hawaii Department of Health is on the verge of taking an official position against the politically charged proposed merger of Honolulu's Fire and Emergency Services Departments, according to the DOH division chief.

Linda Rosen, Chief of Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention System Branch, told Civil Beat Tuesday night that a formal letter to Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle is awaiting Gov. Neil Abercrombie's approval.

Such a letter would carry a lot of weight because providing emergency medical care is actually a state function, and the city is the state's contractor to handle those responsibilities on Oahu. But that could change if DOH isn't satisfied with the city's operations.

"Within my department, that is the agreement that we're prepared to recommend against a merger, but the governor hasn't signed off on it yet," Rosen said in a phone interview. "I believe that there's a recommendation and the director is awaiting the governor's approval of that."

But while the state has a lot of power in the situation — the threat of losing around $30 million in funding would obviously impact any decision — Rosen said the state needs to tread carefully. She said the letter's not a done deal yet, though it could be sent soon.

"The idea is that it's not a unilateral decision on the city's part," she said. "We've just tried to be careful to not be too intrusive. It's always a delicate balance between the state and the city."

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