Honolulu, Hawaiʻi –Several health experts who spoke at an informational briefing on COVID-19 cases in nursing facilities today before the House Health and the Human Services & Homelessness committees warned Representatives that our kupuna remain at high risk to contract the coronavirus.
But they also said that by using proven measures at the elderly care facilities such as wearing face masks, screening all staff and visitors, Hawaiʻi is the safest state in the nation for controlling the spread of the virus.
Care facility concerns were raised in June when a recent cluster of infections appeared at the Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Hawaii's largest skilled nursing facility.
"Our kupuna are the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 so we must be extra cautious to make sure they are tested regularly and protected," said Representative John M. Mizuno, Chair of the House Health Committee. "They cannot be overlooked."
Dr. Scott Miscovich, President, Premier Medical Group Hawaii, said Hale Nani patients and staff have undergone several rounds of testing and all are now negative for the virus. Miscovich said with elderly care facilities, we need to be proactive not reactive.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said the way the virus will enter a care home is not from the patients themselves, but through the staff and visitors who must be socially responsible to make sure they do not contract the virus through risky behavior and pass it on to the residents.
Hilton Raethel, President and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaiʻi, told the committees that every day the staff and visitors at all facilities have their temperatures taken and are screened for any contact with people that are ill or have symptoms of the virus.
Raethel said there have been no death from the virus in any of our elderly care facilities and Hawaiʻi has the lowest infection and death rate in the country.
"Infection control is a key issue. The care homes must have the PPE and knowledge about what it takes to protect their residents," said Representative Joy A. San Buenaventura, Chair, Human Services & Homelessness Committee. "These providers are essential workers just like workers in any hospital."
The legislature has allocated $100 million in CARES Act funds to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for schools, small businesses and health care facilities.
Committee members were also concerned about continued testing and providing PPE for the smaller care facilities.