In The News

Column: Veterans Home Took Proper Precautions

By Kimberly Mahi

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s health-care workers have received overwhelming support from their communities as they fought to protect the people in their care. It gave them the resolve to fight on in the face of this deadly virus. Now, as we confront outbreaks in Hawaii, our health-care heroes need strong support, as do those suffering from the coronavirus in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

This is especially true for nursing home and assisted-living professionals. The elderly and people with preconditions are especially susceptible to COVID-19. In addition, people living in communal settings are at heightened risk of catching the virus. It is why long-term care leaders have labeled the virus the “perfect killing machine” and undertaking unprecedented steps to keep residents safe.

Research from experts at Harvard, Brown and other leading academic institutions shows that once the virus is spreading at a high rate in a community, it is virtually impossible to prevent outbreaks in long-term care settings. As a result, at least 19,000 facilities across the country have experienced outbreaks resulting in more than 470,000 infections and 77,000 deaths.

This is largely due to asymptomatic spread. While facilities moved swiftly to protect residents by suspending visits and implementing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and other health agencies, staff members still live in the outside world. When visiting a grocery store or refueling their automobile, they can unwittingly become asymptomatic carries of the virus.

I work at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo and this matches our experience. We took every step that was recommended to us by federal and state officials. This was affirmed earlier in June when our facility received a surprise visit from the Offices of Health Care Assurances (OHCA) for an infection control survey. That inspection found we were completely up to date with our procedures and the surveyor even applauded our staffers for their diligent work to safeguard our residents. We were doing what we were supposed to be doing.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows someone who works in our facility. Our dedicated caregivers consider the veterans in their care to be part of their family and will stop at nothing to care for them.

Soon following that OHCA visit, though, case counts in Hawaii began to rise. As they did, we continued to closely follow all federal and state guidelines and did everything we could to prevent the virus from entering our building. Sadly, this virus is not easily defeated.

As we now battle a significant outbreak, we are working very hard to save our beloved Hawaii veterans. We are working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement additional protocols that are above and beyond the guidance being followed by other nursing homes across the country.

We are also working with our state’s health care and elected officials to ensure we have the testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies we need. There is nothing we won’t do to save the lives of our residents.

This is not the time for finger-pointing. This is the time to work together. The enemy is the virus, and those working on the front line to defeat it need the support of elected officials as we work to protect our veterans.

We have all seen how inspiring the support of a community rallying around caregivers and residents can be. That is what is needed now so we can overcome this historic threat and save lives.

Kimberly Mahi is a registered nurse and a staffing development coordinator at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.