Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 74° Today's Paper


Hawaii News

Hawaii senior care homes take extreme measures to keep COVID-19 out

STAR-ADVERTISER FILE
                                Plaza facilities in Kaneohe, Mililani, Moanalua, Pearl City, Punchbowl and Waikiki began screening visitors at the end of January. Later they began cutting down on visiting hours and then ultimately eliminated them completely.
1/1
Swipe or click to see more

STAR-ADVERTISER FILE

Plaza facilities in Kaneohe, Mililani, Moanalua, Pearl City, Punchbowl and Waikiki began screening visitors at the end of January. Later they began cutting down on visiting hours and then ultimately eliminated them completely.

Hawaii’s adult care centers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are prohibiting visitors and taking other extreme measures to stop COVID-19 from penetrating a resident population particularly vulnerable to the infectious disease.

So far it seems to be working. As of Friday, health officials said no coronavirus cases have been linked to any of Hawaii’s care homes.

This is in stark contrast to reports of COVID-19 infecting hundreds of care homes from coast to coast and many more around the world.

In Kirkland, Wash., for example, at least 35 residents and staff died at one facility, while COVID-19 cases at a Maryland nursing home grew from one confirmed case one day to 64 confirmed cases the next. Twenty-four residents of an Indiana nursing home slammed by COVID-19 have died, and a nursing home in Iowa saw 14 deaths.

Last week Oregon health officials reported that the coronavirus spread to at least 34 senior care homes throughout the state and nearly 90 homes are under investigation for possible cases, the Oregonian reported Wednesday.

Tricia Medeiros, CEO of The Plaza Assisted Living, which operates six homes on Oahu, said she saw what was happening on the mainland and didn’t want the same to happen here.

“We wanted to be proactive,” she said. “Now we’re constantly going by the mantra of keeping the virus out.”

Plaza facilities in Kaneohe, Mililani, Moanalua, Pearl City, Punchbowl and Waikiki began screening visitors at the end of January. Later they began cutting down on visiting hours and then ultimately eliminated them completely.

“We were getting some pushback at first,” Medeiros said. “Some families were trying to find loopholes. Now people are realizing how serious this is and attitudes have shifted.”

Among the new rules: If a resident leaves the community for any non-essential reason, they will be subject to screening when they return and a 14-day quarantine in their apartment.

Nursing homes are considered an accelerator of the virus, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, because not only are the residents more likely to be vulnerable to complications from the virus, but the homes are like cruise ships in that they are generally enclosed environments.

People aged 70 and older are at higher risk of getting very sick or dying from the coronavirus, while those 85 and over are even more vulnerable.

At Palolo Chinese Home, visitation was stopped March 16 to nearly all non-essential visitors.

“That’s really hard,” said Darlene Nakayama, Palolo Chinese Home CEO. “For a lot of them, you cannot explain why.”

In one heartbreaking moment, a woman caught a glimpse of her son, who had come to a secured area for her laundry.

“She was yelling for him, but we could not let him near her,” Nakayama said.

To try to allay feelings of isolation, nursing and administrative staff members have been helping residents keep in touch with their families via FaceTime and Skype, while assisting in the operation of cell phones, iPads and laptops from a safe distance.

“We try to keep families connected on a regular basis,” said Eric Batalon, fund development manager. “I was helping a family in a group chat, and the husband was crying and it was hard to keep the iPad still.”

Other measures taken by the home include eliminating a home cleaning service and discontinuing senior day care services, because it is considered too risky to bring people into the facility.

As for the more than 200 employees of Palolo Chinese Home, they have been wearing masks and other personal protective equipment as well as following proper social distancing and hand-washing protocols.

Supervisors have been taking temperatures of employees daily and monitoring those who might be coughing or showing other signs that they might be sick. Those individuals are sent home immediately.

“It’s a staffing nightmare,” Nakayama said.

The company also has been providing free meals to its employees in an effort to dissuade them from leaving the facility for lunch or dinner and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Additionally, the company arranged to have an in-house farmers market to help staffers stay away from stores.

“Everything we do is for the betterment and safety of our residents,” Batalon said. “They are always the priority here.”

At Arcadia retirement residences in Honolulu, the threat of the coronavirus has changed life just as it’s doing at other senior centers around the state. In addition to a ban of visitors, food services have been transitioned to in-room dining for all meals, and resident temperature checks are conducted daily.

Daily tours for prospective residents have been discontinued, according to the Arcadia website, and new resident move-ins have been postponed.

At ‘Ilima at Leihano senior living in Kapolei, executive director Mark Tsuda sits in on a conference call twice a week with the leaders of 19 other Kisco Senior Living facilities in the U.S., sharing best practices for how to lock out the coronavirus.

“We’ve been in front of the curve on a lot of things,” Tsuda said. “We were stopping visitors before it was recommended nationally.”

Tsuda said if family and friends want to drop anything off, they must do so at a table set up outside the facility. Anything going inside is disinfected before being brought in.

When employees show up for work, they are administered temperature checks and questioned about their health and contacts.

“We rely on our staff to be honest about it. We want to make sure they’re not bringing anything in here. If they aren’t being honest, it doesn’t help anybody,” he said.

Last week, Tsuda said, the residents were asked to stay in their apartments. To accommodate the new setup, employees began conducting room service and prowling the hallways with snacks and drinks like flight attendants. They’ve also set up virtual communications with their families through FaceTime, Zoom and Skype.

Fitness classes are now being conducted in the hallways, with the residents staying at their doors. Hallway bingo is becoming popular as well, Tsuda said.

“We’re trying to create a protective bubble around the community,” he said. “The residents have been so good about it, and we’ve gotten nice comments from the families.”

Tsuda said the senior facilities across Hawaii appear to be doing a good job of keeping the virus out.

“Everybody is being very careful about everything,” he said.

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines. Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.