HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Nurses Association sounded the alarm about low staffing levels at skilled nursing homes. The president of the union said members are overworked, while at least one facility battled a COVID outbreak.

At least 54 residents and 25 staff members at the Care Center of Honolulu tested positive for COVID-19.

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“We don’t have the specifics about the origins of this particular outbreak, but it has been a significant outbreak,” Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel said. “And certainly one of the most significant outbreaks that we have experienced in any of our facilities for quite some time.”

A spokesperson working with Care Center of Honolulu confirmed the source of coronavirus infection was traced to a patient who was transferred into the facility.

The Care Center of Honolulu shared a statement with KHON2 News.

Like a number of nursing homes around the state, the delta variant resulted in a COVID outbreak in September at our facility.  While 91% of our staff are vaccinated, 54 patients tested positive, the majority of whom were vaccinated. On average, over 80% of our patients are vaccinated. 

Upon learning of our first infected resident, we immediately tested residents and staff in the facility and took steps to isolate infected residents and institute protocols to protect staff and residents. We are testing residents and staff more frequently than required, and are grateful to have been commended by the state Department of Health for our handling of this outbreak.

Every member of the Care Center of Honolulu’s staff has been making an extraordinary effort to provide the highest levels of care for our patients. We have nothing but praise for our nurses, who like their counterparts everywhere, are meeting the challenges imposed by the pandemic in a heroic fashion.

We regret that our high regard for our nurses has been brought into question by false statements made by the Hawaii Nurses’ Association. No nurse has been suspended, and we continue to work collaboratively with our nurses to manage our patient care and their schedules.

We do agree with Hawaii Nurses’ Association that there is a shortage of nurses in long-term nursing facilities that has become even more acute during the pandemic. We have also asked for help from Healthcare Association of Hawaii. Our elected officials in Washington, and others in the state’s Department of Health are trying to find solutions to this problem facing all long-term nursing facilities and the healthcare system overall.

The Care Center of Honolulu

The Hawaii Nurses Association President Daniel Ross said members are working longer hours to fill in the worker gaps. He said in one instance a nurse worked a 20-hour shift.

Ross said, “We advised them, look, it is not patient abandonment if you tell them you are not safe, you are not fit to work. It comes to a point, you cannot work continuously and still be able to do your job safely.”

Raethel said a proposal to bring in more than 240 additional healthcare workers with a cost of $10 million has not gotten approval from the state. He presented the $10 million proposal to beef-up post-acute care facilities to members of the Hawaii House of Representatives at the beginning of September.

In the meantime, he said attempts from the facility to bring in more staff through staffing agencies have also been unsuccessful.

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“The facility went to a number of agencies to try and identify staff,” Raethel explained. “And there was some staff who were available, but did not want to go into a facility that’s experiencing an outbreak, so that presents an additional set of challenges as well.”