So far, so good at Hilo dialysis clinic

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Premier Medical Group performed 179 COVID-19 tests earlier this week in the wake of a confirmed case associated with Liberty Dialysis in Hilo.

After a COVID-19 case associated with Liberty Dialysis in Hilo was confirmed Tuesday, 179 coronavirus tests were conducted to make sure the virus hasn’t spread.

Dr. Kaohimanu Dang Akiona, Hawaii County medical director for Premier Medical Group — which performed the testing Tuesday — said she recommended testing for the entire clinic, which would have been 60-70 people.

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The testing was for staff and patients of the clinic, as well as the general public concerned about possible exposure.

Akiona said she’s glad the community took the case seriously, but the intent was to “clamp down on a potential outbreak in a bad setting.”

She had only received a handful of the test results as of Thursday afternoon.

Although public officials would not say whether the case was in a patient or staff member, Akiona confirmed it was a clinic employee who tested positive.

According to Akiona, that individual was instructed to get tested again and was the only positive result as of Thursday.

Akiona said a nationwide shortage of testing materials means many recent COVID-19 tests have to be sent out of state for processing, which delays results.

“I didn’t discourage anybody from getting tested (Tuesday),” she said. “When the risk is this high and patients are this frail and the service is this important … I feel like we really need to be aggressive and thorough.”

“We all need to be aware this is huge,” Akiona said. “When somebody gets sick at dialysis, it’s a bad thing.”

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno on Thursday said the county talked to management at Liberty Dialysis and coordinated the testing with Premier Medical, which has been leading COVID-19 testing around the Big Island and is under contract with the county.

“DOH pretty much identified the one infected person and said there was no other close contacts that resulted in their investigation from Liberty Dialysis,” he said.

The clinic also was interested in possibly using the county’s sanitation fogger machine, Magno said. The device sprays a fine mist that can reach places that might otherwise be difficult to reach by conventional cleaning measures.

“Our staff instructed their cleaning staff how to use the equipment,” he said, but added that the company has not yet used the machine.

A spokesman for Fresenius Kidney Care and Liberty Dialysis did not immediately respond to emailed questions from the Tribune-Herald.

On Tuesday, however, a spokesman said the clinic has been actively screening patients and employees for COVID-19 since February and implemented strict infection control procedures and the use of protective equipment that met or exceeded federal guidelines.

“Though we are unable to disclose information about specific individuals or centers, we can confirm that patients who present symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 will be receiving treatment in separate clinics or shifts to help protect our patients, employees and physician partners,” said Brad Puffer, the spokesman. “Patient safety and delivering superior care remains at the forefront of everything we do.”

Puffer did not immediately respond Thursday to follow-up questions from the Tribune-Herald.

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Premier Medical will offer additional testing in response to the Liberty Dialysis case, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and Thursday, Aug. 13, at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.