January 26, 2018 — The Hyperbaric Treatment Center (HTC) has reopened and is once again providing 24/7 treatment for civilian divers suffering from decompression sickness. Nine physicians have been recruited to provide service at HTC since the facility closed on October 19, 2017, because of a physician coverage shortage. The physicians have been trained in hyperbaric techniques. HTC reopened on January 15, 2018.
“We have reopened HTC with a crew of dedicated physicians, nurses and technicians,” said Dr. Susan Steinemann, a longtime Hawaiʻi trauma surgeon and JABSOM faculty member, hired in November 2017 as the center’s interim medical director. “We understand the essential role the center plays for our local dive community and are diligently working to a complete re-establishment of services.”
“Resuming this critical service was a top priority for the University of Hawaiʻi and the John A. Burns School of Medicine,” said Jerris Hedges, dean of the medical school. “There is still much to be done, but we are very pleased that we can once again provide this high-quality, very specialized care to the people of Hawaiʻi.”
The center has also resumed non-emergency hyperbaric medical care for certain types of wounds and tissue damage caused by radiation therapy.
A consultant is developing a business plan to guide the financial operation of HTC. Providing year-round, 24/7, emergency hyperbaric oxygen treatment is expensive. Only about 1 in 10 hyperbaric centers on the continental U.S. offers 24/7 emergency service.
“We are actively investigating ways to maintain funding for HTC operations, as current emergency operations are not financially sustainable,” said Steinemann. “Community support is essential if we are to maintain our current level of emergency services, and we thank state lawmakers for their ongoing support.”
A $1.5 million upgrade to HTC, funded by the state Legislature, is scheduled to begin in 2018 and includes renovation of the 40-year-old chamber and supporting systems. HTC has also recently purchased new equipment to improve medical care including a ventilator, intravenous pumps and monitors.
HTC has treated civilian divers for decompression sickness or “the bends” in Hawaiʻi since 1983. Anyone suffering from a decompression injury is advised to first go to the nearest emergency department for immediate treatment.