Kaiser Permanente is sending members of its national COVID-19 command center and infectious disease experts to its affiliate hospital on Maui, where a coronavirus cluster outbreak has prompted public safety concerns.

There are now 36 people linked to the cluster at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Those infected include 27 employees and nine patients, Hawaii News Now reported Tuesday, citing a letter from the hospital CEO.

There has been no widespread testing of hospital staff who do not have symptoms, and health care workers interviewed by Civil Beat say they are fearful and stressed that no one knows who might have been infected because the hospital was slow to require health care workers to wear personal protective equipment and also told some staff not to wear it.

Civil Beat interviewed multiple health care workers earlier this week who described an erosion of trust and communication between hospital staff and executives over safety protocols.

Health care workers at Maui Memorial Medical Center say hospital executives have been secretive about the cluster of positive COVID-19 cases at the hospital. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Kaiser Permanente took over operation of the hospital from the state in 2017.

The team flown in to Maui from the mainland by Kaiser brings experience and expertise gained by caring for COVID-19 patients in national hotspots for the virus outbreak, including Seattle and Santa Clara, California, according to a press release from the hospital’s communications director.

The team is charged with reassessing the hospital’s operations, standing up a COVID-19 command center to oversee issues including patient safety, workforce health, PPE supply, internal policies and compliance with guidelines administered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will also implement a public communications plan to better inform community members about the virus and prevention methods.

“At Maui Health, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our staff members, physicians and patients,” according to the press release that explains why hospital executives asked Kaiser to send in national experts to improve safety procedures and internal management practices during the pandemic.

Health care workers at the hospital told Civil Beat they had been concerned with a now-rescinded policy that banned them from wearing masks brought in from home during a period of time when the hospital was not supplying masks to employees who were not caring for COVID-19 patients.

That policy has changed, with hospital staff now receiving surgical masks at the door when they arrive for the start of their shift. But some hospital workers interviewed by Civil Beat said they question the effectiveness of the surgical masks they are being supplied with and want the hospital to provide N95 masks for everyone.

There are other safety concerns, including complaints about a lack of availability of PPE and the sanitation wipes used to wipe down ventilators.

An online petition created by an ICU nurse calls for the resignation of the hospital’s top four decision-makers: CEO Michael Rembis, Chief Operating Officer Debbie Walsh, Chief Executive Nurse Gary Keinbaum, and Director of Strategic Communications Lisa Paulson. The petition has garnered more than 5,700 signatures.

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