A new report from a federal agency has reported the first COVID-19 related death has occurred in a Hawaii nursing home, but state officials say it was a suspect case that turned out to not be related to the coronavirus.

Local officials at the Hawaii Department of Health maintain no COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing facilities in Hawaii to date.

“DOH can confirm this is an error,” DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Friday.

The reported death was at Hale Makua, a Maui nursing home, according to the federal report.

Hale Makua Health Services on Maui is caring for the state’s only COVID-19 nursing home case. A death reported by the federal government wasn’t actually COVID-19 related, Hale Makua officials said. 

Hale Makua Health Services Executive Director Wesley Lo said Friday that the death listing is for a patient who had COVID-19-like symptoms. The patient began showing symptoms similar to coronavirus symptoms on May 2, but died before the negative test results returned. As a result, CMS lists it as a suspect COVID-19 death.

“The resident was on hospice services for two months so her decline was expected,” said Teana Kaho‘ohanohano, Hale Makua Health Services administrator.

The Hawaii Department of Health does not provide data about suspect or confirmed cases in nursing home facilities. So the new federal tracker provides more detail about how COVID-19 has affected patients and staffing at the facilities that care for people who are most vulnerable to the disease. But CMS only required cases dating back to May 1 to be reported.

A screenshot of a data map from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services shows a COVID-19 death attributed to Hale Makua. As of May 6, nursing homes are required to report suspected and confirmed cases to CMS. CMS

As a result, the dataset published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is incomplete, and some COVID-19 cases confirmed by states that dealt with large outbreaks are not included, the New York Times reported Friday. That’s because CMS made it optional for facilities to report cases dating back to January.

Nationally, nursing and elderly care facilities have represented a large proportion of COVID-19 clusters and deaths, as the disease afflicts many elderly people. About 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in long term care facilities. 

Hale Makua Health Services, which operates two elderly care facilities on Maui, continues to care for the state’s only COVID-19 patient verified in a nursing home. The man is recovering, according to Hale Makua administrators. That man’s case is not yet included in this federal dataset, either, because its most recent data submission to CMS has not yet been included in the federal data.

Kula Hospital is listed to have had 30 suspect COVID-19 cases, but none of them have resulted in COVID-19 diagnoses, according to CMS.

Walkers and wheel chairs at Hokulaki Senior Living LLC. care home elderly. 14 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaii state officials say just one case of COVID-19 has been verified in a nursing facility, and the patient is recovering. Seventeen deaths have been tallied as caused by COVID-19 in the state to date, none of which occurred in a nursing home, Department of Health officials said. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Nursing homes also responded to questions from CMS about staffing shortages, ventilators and inventory of supplies such as gowns, gloves, masks and even hand sanitizer. Most facilities reported having sufficient supplies. Some cited shortages of staff.

Kuakini Geriatric Care cited a shortage of nursing staff. Facilities such as the Care Center of Honolulu and Palolo Chinese Home reported a shortage of aides.

Going forward, facilities will be required to provide a weekly report to CMS about suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases in their facilities. The reporting requirement went into effect on May 6.

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