An online petition calling for the resignation of four Maui Memorial Medical Center executives has garnered more than 3,000 signatures as public outcry over a cluster of COVID-19 cases at Maui’s only hospital intensifies.
As of 6 p.m. Sunday the petition had collected 3,074 signatures, many of them accompanied by messages of support for the center’s staff and criticism of administrators accused of putting cost concerns ahead of staff and patient safety.
On Sunday the state Department of Health reported that the number of COVID-19 cases connected to Maui Memorial Medical Center stood at 31: 22 hospital staff and nine patients. Several tests are pending.
The hospital is reaching out to nearly 300 patients who received care from affected workers.
Aaron Bear, an intensive care unit nurse, said he started the petition on change.org in hopes of creating a safer situation for his colleagues and the patients they serve as the virus continues to spread on the island.
“It would be a success if the staff could feel safe doing their jobs and if we can prevent any further infections in the hospital,” Bear said. “Asking (the administrators) to resign is because I feel they are detrimental to the community of Maui and they are dangerous and abusive to the staff of this hospital, which I love.”
The petition calls for the resignations of Chief Executive Officer Michael Rembis, Chief Operating Officer Debbie Walsh, Chief Nurse Executive Gary Kienbaum and Director of Strategic Communications Lisa Paulson.
“The named above have and continue to implement abusive and dangerous policies putting both healthcare staff and the Maui community at risk during the COVID-19 health crisis,” the petition reads.
Maui Memorial could not be reached for comment late Sunday. Rembis, the CEO, said in a news release Thursday, “We are doing everything we can to protect and safeguard our patients and their caregivers. While we cannot comment on personnel matters, we are committed to supporting our employees, keeping them safe, and helping them through this pandemic.”
Union representative Joel Emerson said he has been in frequent contact with management over the last two months and thinks upper administrators have been making a concerted effort to communicate more frequently and in greater depth with employees recently, particularly in the aftermath of the cluster revelation.
He said he is working individually with union members who have concerns over working conditions.
The petition’s list of problems at the hospital includes “lack of transparency, lack of PPE (personal protective equipment), excuses, late to respond, not adhering to infection controls, not open to community donations, lack of compassion, accusations of healthcare workers ‘overreacting,’ constant blanket statements that they are following CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines (we can and must do better!), not allowing nurses to wear personally purchased PPE — the list goes on.”
Bear said he was prompted to initiate the petition after witnessing what he views as systematic decision-making that prioritizes cost savings over the safety of staff and patients, including denying masks and other personal protective equipment to staff not assigned to work directly with people positively diagnosed with COVID-19 and initially disallowing the use of PPE that staff brought from home. Bear said he believed such policies allowed the virus to spread in areas of the hospital outside the designated COVID-19 treatment area.
Bear said he once witnessed a manager tell a co-worker who was concerned about catching the virus from undiagnosed patients to remove a surgical mask. He said he’s recently also had to appeal to his superiors to let other co-workers use masks when performing procedures on patients with open wounds or other potentially hazardous situations that would normally justify use of PPE.
“They’re hoarding (PPE) for whatever reason,” he said.
A cluster of 15 confirmed cases was initially reported at the Maui hospital on Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Josh Green said more than 1,500 people were tested in the area of the hospital over the ensuing three days.
Maui resident and activist Kai Nishiki signed the petition out of concern that the island’s main health care facility was not responding appropriately to the COVID-19 threat.
“We all have family members who are nurses or first responders, and we want them to be safe,” she said. “There’s only one hospital here and it’s complete chaos over there.
“Public outcry can effect change,” she said. “We need to do what we can to keep each other safe because we’re tired of relying on the leadership of the hospital and the state.”