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Editorial: Maui Health owes residents answers

Maui Memorial Medical Center, the principal health care facility for the fast-growing Maui County communities, has had a miserable few weeks, with a cluster of positive cases associated with the hospital as the coronavirus pandemic rolls through.

As of Tuesday, the total number of those infected with COVID-19 was 34, a total encompassing staff, patients and “individuals known to have an association with Maui Memorial Medical Center,” according to the state’s health director.

The hospital has been playing catch-up to mounting calls for personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care workers amid a crushing global shortage.

But that is not enough, given that it’s not only those within the hospital reeling at the news. The Maui community itself would like some clear information on what problem was the cause of the cluster, and some confidence that enough has been done to get it under control.

The hospital has worked to bring its practices into compliance with federal and state health guidelines, but that doesn’t close the information gap. In the absence of good community communication, there is worry — and an explosive reaction, such as the online petition that’s been circulating.

The petition, started by an intensive care nurse at Maui Memorial, has garnered more than 5,500 signatures as of Tuesday. It called for the resignations of top hospital executives; complaints largely centered on a lack of transparency and a lack of PPE.

The union representing the workers, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, is working with Maui Health. This is the nonprofit that manages state-owned county facilities, which also include Kula Hospital, a long-term care facility; Lanai Community Hospital; and two outpatient clinics.

In a related matter, state Health Director Bruce Anderson said during a media conference on Tuesday, that the Kula facility also has a resident positive for COVID-19, and a second cluster, linked to a church, is under study.

All of these developments surely have raised the anxiety levels of Maui residents.

At the conference, Anderson cited the hospital’s recent actions, such as issuing PPE adequately and providing training. But the community would like to ask questions of the management themselves.

Specifically: What are those steps being taken to contain further spread?

There’s been confusion surrounding the novel coronavirus — “novel” signifying that it’s new, with scientists racing to learn about it and the medical protocols continuing to evolve. Guidance on the use of PPEs, for example, has changed.

The whole management arrangement for Maui Memorial hospital is confusing, too, and may be in the process of evolving itself. Formerly state-run, a call for privatization in recent years led to the founding of Maui Health, a subsidiary of Kaiser Permanente, one of the state’s major health organizations.

Charmaine Morales, the union’s executive vice president, said talks with the hospital are continuing and have led to the establishment of a command center to provide clearer lines of communication for the staff, which is encouraging.

Hospital officials did not respond to an editorial- board call for comment. But Maui Health CEO Michael Rembis did sign an “open letter to our employees and physicians,” published in Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser Maui edition, stating that it has implemented Health Department protocols and now requires masks for all staff.

He also said he “will arrange a town hall call for our employees.” While that’s necessary, it should be added that a town hall meeting also needs to happen for the town — more precisely, the Maui community itself.

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