A new data dashboard released this week by AARP shows Hawaii had nearly double the national average in COVID-related nursing home deaths throughout a four-week period in August and September.
Aggregating and analyzing data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the dashboard looks at resident deaths and virus cases per 100 residents, staff cases per 100 residents, the percentage of nursing homes without a one-week supply of personal protective equipment and the percentage of nursing homes with staffing shortages.
According to the dashboard, 29 COVID-19 deaths were reported in Hawaii between Aug. 24 and Sept. 20, a rate of 0.91 per 100 residents. That’s nearly twice the national average of 0.48 per 100 residents.
The nursing home deaths accounted for 41% of all virus-related deaths in the state during that time, and for 28% of such deaths since June 1.
There were 90 nursing home cases reported during the same period, or a rate of 2.8 cases per 100 residents compared to the national rate of 2.6 cases per 100 residents.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in nursing home residents since January— 135, or 1.2% of all COVID cases in the state — is lower than the national average of 3.5%.
Additionally, there were 88 staff cases, a rate of 2.8 cases per 100 residents.
“The state of Hawaii has a duty to protect kupuna living in long-term care facilities,” said Keali‘i Lopez, state director of AARP Hawaii, in a news release. “The state has only released one report on COVID-19 deaths and illnesses in long-term care facilities in Hawaii.
“This new AARP dashboard is based on data provided by nursing homes to the federal government and shows Hawaii kupuna had a greater death rate, and that local nursing homes faced a higher rate of PPE shortages and staff shortages than the nation as a whole as COVID-19 cases rose in the general public last month.”
Currently, the state Department of Health each Friday updates a list of long-term care facilities that have reported cases of COVID-19 within the past 28 days, but does not include specific information regarding the number of cases or deaths reported at each facility.
“I think the AARP dashboard is important for many reasons,” Lopez said in a phone interview Thursday. “One primarily being for those that are responsible for the care of the kupuna here in Hawaii, whether it’s the (state DOH), the nursing homes, the nurses and doctors who look at and need to be looking at the data to understand the trends.
“Comparing your situation with others helps you know if you’re heading in the right direction,” she continued. “Having the data available is the other key piece. Here in Hawaii, it’s been difficult if not impossible to have data like this available to the public or people who are making the funding decisions. … From our perspective, you need data to understand how significant the issue is. How else do you make informed decisions?”
The initial four-week snapshot, however, looks at the period during which a devastating outbreak of the coronavirus swept through Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.
During that outbreak, which began in late August and continued into September, 71 residents and 35 employees tested positive for COVID-19. Ultimately, 27 veterans home residents died during the outbreak.
Lopez said the time frame for the snapshot was selected by the national AARP organization.
“Clearly, over time, we’re all hopeful the results for Hawaii do end up looking better,” she said. “(But) as we all know, no matter when the snapshot is, the fact that there are deaths of one or more is still significant. Let’s not get caught up on the time frame.”
The dashboard data also showed Hawaii had a higher than average shortage of personal protective equipment — including N95 and surgical masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves — as well as sanitizer.
According to the dashboard, 31% of Hawaii’s nursing homes did not have a one-week supply of PPE, compared to the national average of 25.5%.
“I think one of the things we can see from the dashboard report is the issue of staffing shortage, and I think that is especially a challenge on Hawaii Island,” Lopez said.
According to the data, 35.7% of Hawaii’s nursing facilities faced a shortage of direct care workers, compared to the nationwide average of 28.8%.
“… And, again, the staff are there, working hard, putting in a lot of hours, but there’s really only so much you can do if there aren’t enough hands on deck to address these issues,” Lopez said.
According to AARP, the organization has fought for public reporting of nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths.
In addition to calling on the state to do a better job releasing nursing home data, Lopez called on Gov. David Ige’s administration to explain what it is doing to prevent deaths and infections in long-term care facilities; for mandatory regular rapid-result testing of staff, residents, visitors and vendors; and increased efforts to provide all elder care facilities with adequate PPE supplies and staffing.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.