Positive cases at Maui Memorial Medical Center increase, some staff feel unsafe

On Sunday, the Hawaii Department of Health confirmed 31 positive cases linked to Maui Memorial Medical Center.

From mid-March through April 7, 15 healthcare workers at MMMC tested positive for COVID-19.  

The DOH said on Sunday that four patients are now under investigation as potentially linked to the original cluster.

On Wednesday, April 8 ‘out of an abundance of caution,’ the hospital said it tested 126 workers and patients.

Officials also announced on Sunday that from those test results, seven staff members and five patient results came back positive.

Now, the hospital is notifying 194 patients who received care by those affected healthcare workers.

One worker at MMMC told KHON2 that the morale is low, and a petition has been started asking for the resignation of the top four leaders of the hospital.

Aaron Bear has worked MMMC for 11 years as an ICU nurse. He said lack of transparency and delays in being able to wear personal protective equipment added to the problem.

“My guess is that most of this started from staff coming back from vacation and giving it to their co-workers in that time period where they weren’t allowed to wear their own PPE,” Bear said.

He explained that the CEO of Kaiser Permanente sent out a memo back on March 25, which stated that certain staff members could bring in and wear their own PPE’s.

Kaiser Permanente and Maui Health Systems are affiliated, but Kaiser does not own MHS.

That same day the CEO of Maui Memorial wrote in a memo:

“Many of you received an email this afternoon from Gregory Adams, KP Chairman and CEO, thanking everyone for their hard work and support during this difficult time. In his message, he talked about the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic located in the epicenter of California and revised their policy on mask usage.

At this time, at Maui Health, we will not be revising our current mask policy related to usage by clinical and non-clinical staff or use of non-hospital supplied masks. Thank you for your conservation efforts of PPE supplies and following our current policy of mask usage. Your efforts allow us to provide hospital masks, as deemed appropriate by our policy.”

A few days later, the cluster of workers was announced and last week MMMC announced they would allow staff to wear their own PPE’s but will still require staff to use hospital issued N95 masks in COVID-19 patient areas.

“I was dumbfounded that the Maui Health System administration was doing nothing to prevent this, and they were actually contradicting their own parent company and putting their employees at risk,” Bear said. “By not allowing the nurses to wear their own mask which could have at least prevented them from giving the infection to a patient or another co-worker.”

He also believes all healthcare workers at the hospital should be tested for COVID-19, not just a few workers.

“I’m upset the cluster, the whole thing started, and they didn’t make the decision to test everybody,” he said.

KHON2 asked if he thinks the numbers will continue to increase at MMMC. “Oh definitely, 100%,” he said.

He told KHON2 on Sunday that he recently found out that he worked with a woman on April 3, who recently tested positive.

“So we’re hearing ‘so and so tested positive and you just worked with her,  so if you have symptoms, or are concerned, then go to employee health and they will screen you and give you a note to take to the ER to be tested,’ he explained. “So, they’re leaving it in our hands and there is absolutely nobody taking control of the situation.”

He believes the entire staff should be tested and put on a schedule for re-testing to ensure the safety of everyone, including patients.

“There is no morale left, there is no confidence in the administration left,” he said.

“I believe MHS could have done even a little bit more to prevent these problems but we, as a staff, are trying to help the community, we are just silenced out of fear of losing our jobs,” Bear added.

Lt. Governor Dr. Josh Green said the surge on Maui is concerning but assured that it is being taken care of.

“I know people are worried but it’s going to be okay. Having the testing sometimes takes a couple of days to come back so in the course of the next two to three days we should see exactly how many total cases there are,” he said.

Dr. Green who finished a 48-hour work shift at the hospital said he understands the healthcare workers concerns.

“I think it’s fair to test and over test more individuals in healthcare, the first responders, nurses, doctors, because they have to take care of other people,” he said.

“The most important thing is to test all close contacts with positive cases. If it were my judgement call, I would test more broader than that.”

“I feel the pain of the nurses. I was with them all weekend taking care of patients, including a handful of people we suspected COVID positive on so every nurse, every doctor needs to have PPE. If they’re taking care of patients and then they’re with friends on breaks and doing things…you need to allow for extra PPE in the healthcare facilities,” he continued.

“We should have a state policy where every hospital and every healthcare provider has adequate PPE, it shouldn’t be more complicated than that.”