Residential care home operators call on state to provide more COVID-19 testing, guidance

Residential care home operators say state has failed to provide COVID-19 testing, guidance

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii hasn’t seen any COVID-19 outbreak in skilled nursing homes — like what have been reported on the mainland.

But the operators of hundreds of small residential care homes in Hawiai say they’re still at risk.

They take care of more than 8,000 elderly and disabled residents and believe they've been largely ignored by the state health system that regulates them.

Wannette Gaylord has four small care homes with 20 residents in the McCully-Moiliili area.

She says it's been hard for small care homes to find personal protective equipment.

"We are not top priority. The hospitals are obviously number one," she said.

Some of the residential care homes are small and it's difficult to isolate someone who's sick.

Gaylord says they've depended on CDC guidelines and their own association since the state has given them little guidance on COVID-19.

“It’s absolutely scary. Number one, a lot of the care homes are family-operated care homes meaning. Therefore, they have family members living in the home so it’s doubly scary,” said Gaylord.

Kealii Lopez, state director of AARP, said Hawaii has a higher rate of residents in small residential care homes compared to the rest of the nation.

The AARP says there’s roughly 8,400 beds in residential care homes in Hawaii, or roughly twice the number in larger nursing homes.

It wants universal testing for care home operators and residents, and it says DOH should provide more guidance since the agency regulates them.

“The people who have their loved ones being cared for in those facilities warrant the same level of oversight, support and assistance from the state,” said Lopez.

But state Health Director Bruce Anderson says the state has been giving guidance to care homes primarily through the inspection process.

He added that universal testing isn’t on the table.

"It's impractical to think that we can go and test everyone in those facilities," said Anderson.

"We are inspecting those facilities regularly looking at their infection control plans making sure that they have the equipment and supplies they need and I think that's helped a lot," he said.

The state hasn’t said if there’s been any COVID cases in small residential care homes and AARP says there’s no testing so it doesn’t know.

As for the larger nursing facilities, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, announced Friday that 39 nursing homes will get nearly $40 million in federal funding to stay operational, purchase equipment and cover the costs of staff.

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