The scarcity of medical resources in Pingtung County has been brought up before, but the problem has yet to be addressed.
A few days ago in Hengchun Township (恆春), a firefighter died in the line of duty. The incident shows the urgency of dealing with the uneven distribution of medical resources in Taiwan.
Since the Formosa Fun Coast (八仙樂園) water park disaster in 2015, I have been calling for the establishment of a burn center in Kenting (墾丁).
However, Kenting, the most popular tourist destination in southern Taiwan, still lacks a professional burn center. This leaves public safety in jeopardy whenever large events are hosted in Kenting.
The firefighter in Hengchun was run over by a truck, but rather than being treated at a local hospital, he had to be taken to Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.
Hengchun does not have the capacity for urgent medical cases, and the incident happened during the 228 Peace Memorial Day long weekend when the traffic was much heavier than usual.
Hengchun residents have confronted this problem many times and demanded changes. Six years ago, they petitioned the government to establish a National Airborne Service Corps (NASC) station at Hengchun Airport.
The petition received the 5,000 signatures needed, and after it was filed, the government responded and discussed the issue with residents.
However, setting up a NASC station in Hengchun is still under discussion, and nothing has been settled yet.
Whenever Hengchun residents need critical treatment or intensive care, they still have to be taken by road to Kaohsiung or Pingtung City.
Traffic is not the only problem. Pingtung County covers a vast area, but there are only two emergency ambulances equipped with heart monitors and cardiac stimulators.
As ambulances of this kind can function as a small emergency room, they are particularly important for areas without access to adequate medical resources.
Whereas Taipei has 25 emergency ambulances, some areas that need them do not have a single one available.
For example, Hualien County — as large as Pingtung County — only has one, as does Taitung County — another vast area. Chiayi and Penghu counties do not have any such ambulances.
The uneven distribution of medical resources has exacerbated the already scarce resources in these rural areas. People living in the east or south are more likely to lose their lives during emergencies.
More medical resources and healthcare workers should be distributed to Pingtung County and Hengchun. A fleet of air ambulances should also be deployed.
This is especially necessary when there are emergencies during holidays, when heavy traffic makes southern Taiwan’s rescue and medical system even more fragile.
In recent years, many people have advocated extending the railroad and highways to southern Pingtung.
Before last year’s local elections, Pingtung County Commissioner Chou Chun-mi (周春米) called on the government to start the construction projects, which, unfortunately, have yet to commence.
For those living in Pingtung, Provincial Highway 26 and Provincial Highway 1 are the only roads connected to the Formosa Freeway (Freeway No. 3), which goes to Kaohsiung. Sometimes, if an emergency occurs, these three roads are lifesaving, and the traffic situation is the difference between life and death.
Hengchun needs more medical resources, such as emergency ambulances and professional healthcare workers.
A burn center should also be established to ensure the safety of tourists, a project that the Ministry of Health and Welfare should take the initiative to plan.
It should also work with local governments to improve the medical system in Pingtung.
Hengchun Airport can and should be put to use for a NASC station, as it has become an idle facility.
Had there been a fleet of air ambulances, the firefighter who died could have been airlifted to Kaohsiung, saving his life. Although the government has responded to the petition, the NASC proposal should be reconsidered.
Myers Su is a political commentator.
Translated by Emma Liu
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