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Inspection data sought on Hawaii nursing homes as nation’s facilities see record coronavirus cases

A senior advocacy group wants more data about inspections of Hawaii nursing homes as long-term care facilities across the nation continue to see record cases of COVID-19.

The Kokua Council is calling on the state to provide more access to timely information on unannounced inspections of nursing homes that have been hard-hit with COVID-19, including the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home on the Big Island, which accounted for more than two dozen coronavirus deaths.

Among its concerns is that inspection reports on the home, for instance, are not posted on the state Department of Health website “to ensure the safety of Hawaii’s most vulnerable kupuna.” Since 2013, state law has required the DOH to post reports on the department’s website within five days of an inspection.

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The DOH Office of Health Care Assurance said it has continued nursing-home inspections throughout the pandemic, but in this case, surveys of the Big Island facility are federal and the law requires only the posting of inspection reports at “state-licensed care facilities.” Federal surveys can be found at medicare.gov/nursinghome compare/search.html, though the latest report on the veterans home is from a year ago.

“It is impossible to confirm that necessary inspections are taking place,” said Larry Geller, past president and board member of the Kokua Council.

“Yukio Okutsu … is a cautionary tale about the tragic, real-life consequences of department inaction. Nursing and care home residents are often in frail health and confined in close proximity to one another, and so are particularly at high risk,” he added. “If a facility does not practice effective infection control procedures, not only are the lives of residents placed in danger, but community spread is certain as staff and visitors carry the virus out into the general population.”

The Kokua Council’s complaint comes as nursing facilities nationwide are seeing a surge in new weekly cases, which jumped by more than 110% between mid-September and the week of Nov. 8 due to significant community spread, according to a report released Monday by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. The report showed a 69% increase in COVID-19-related nursing home deaths since late September.

“Residents of long term care facilities account for only 8% of the nation’s cases, yet 40% of its deaths,” the report noted. “Our worst fears have come true as COVID runs rampant among the general population, and long term care facilities are powerless to fully prevent it from entering due to its asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said in a news release.

“We are especially concerned that this situation will only get worse with Thanksgiving just around the corner,” he added. “The public must realize that their actions not only endanger our nation’s most vulnerable, but also trigger government lockdowns of facilities, keeping these residents from their loved ones. We urge everyone to do their part to slow the spread immediately and exercise caution when celebrating Thanksgiving.”

Three months ago long-term care facilities accounted for 15% of Hawaii’s COVID-19 fatalities, according to a DOH report on case investigations released in August. The department said it is working on an updated report.

Health officials recorded 114 new coronavirus infections statewide, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 17,333 cases. The Kauai District Health Office reported the first on-island COVID-19 fatality Monday: a male senior with no history of travel. The Kauai death was not included in the Department of Health’s tally, which came out earlier in the day and reported that the state’s coronavirus death toll remained at 233, though health officials have yet to verify the novel coronavirus as a factor in 17 Big Island deaths. Of the state’s total infection count, 1,314 cases are considered active.

The U.S. coronavirus death toll is now more than 257,000 as the nation previously surpassed 12 million cases.

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