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Over one-third of COVID-19 cases linked to Maui Memorial

Maui County cases rise to 84 over the weekend, including 31 workers and patients

New state health data shows that over a third of Maui County’s coronavirus cases now comprise staff and patients who were at Maui Memorial Medical Center, and by today the state expects to have contacted nearly 200 patients who received care from ill workers.

As of Sunday there were 31 COVID-19 cases of health care workers and patients who were treated at Maui’s main hospital; the county has had 84 total cases, according to the state Department of Health.

With the rise of cases comes mounting pressure on Maui Health, and an online petition launched Saturday morning called for the ouster of top Maui Memorial leaders over allegations that their COVID-19 policies are “dangerous” and “abusive.”

Kaiser-affiliated Maui Health operates Maui Memorial, Kula Hospital, Lanai Community Hospital and associated clinics.

The change.org petition seeks the immediate resignation of four Maui Memorial hospital leaders, citing staff concerns over insufficient personal protective equipment, changing safety protocols and the fostering of an environment of fear and retaliation against workers.

Started by Aaron Bear, an ICU nurse who’s worked at the hospital for 11 years, the petition had more than 3,000 signatures by Sunday night.

Bear has been outspoken about safety concerns but has said that other staffers are afraid to come forward due to possible retaliation.

Several state and local government leaders also have been vocal about the need for greater transparency and trust from the hospital’s administration.

The initial cluster of 15 employees that started mid-March was disclosed by the hospital in a news release on Wednesday. Since then, an additional 90 health care workers and 36 patients have been tested, with a total of 31 now under investigation in connection to the cluster.

Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center spokesman Dan Dennison over the weekend said that the cluster of cases is not a hospital-wide issue but involves at least two wards, with the Chronic Care Ward being the main focus.

By today, hospital and DOH officials will have notified “194 patients who received care at Maui Memorial by affected health care workers,” Dennison said.

The online petition calls for the resignation of hospital leaders Michael Rembis, chief executive officer; Debbie Walsh, chief operating officer; Gary Kienbaum, chief nurse executive; and Lisa Paulson, director of strategic communications.

“The named above have and continue to implement abusive and dangerous policies putting both health care staff and the Maui community at risk during the COVID-19 health crisis,” the petition says.

Hospital administration has said that policies have changed because the Centers for Disease Control and administration guidelines have evolved, and the hospital takes its directives from CDC.

“We have done everything it takes to make sure our employees are safe,” Rembis told The Maui News last week.

Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat, said that Maui Health leadership should have been more proactive. She also said that health care workers need more protection and that the hospital needs more transparency.

“Maui County is a tight knit community, and we need our hospital administration, the Chief Executive Officer –Michael Rembis, Chief Operations Officer — Debbie Walsh, Chief Nurse Executive — Gary Kienbaum and Director of Strategic Communications — Lisa Paulson to be accountable and straightforward with us, much more than they have been to date,” Paltin said in a news release Saturday night. “They need to be more forthcoming with the staff and public on plans and procedures.”

State DOH Director Bruce Anderson expressed concerns last week over equipment and infection protocols that may have contributed to the initial Maui Memorial cluster.

“Maui Memorial has, I think, had some issues there, and I think that might’ve contributed to the outbreak,” Anderson said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Also, South Maui State Rep. Tina Wildberger sent a letter to Rembis and Walsh on Thursday, seeking greater transparency from Maui Health. She told MauiTime that management is asking for “tens of millions of dollars” from the state Legislature and the hospital must protect its “employee taxpayers.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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