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KCH Activates Crisis Staffing Plan Amid COVID Surge

By Tiffany DeMasters
January 5, 2022, 11:54 AM HST
* Updated January 5, 12:24 PM
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The current COVID-19 surge of the Omicron variant hitting Hawaiʻi Island has resulted in a shortage of personnel at Kona Community Hospital as many staff members have been directly exposed or tested positive for the virus.

Multiple departments throughout the hospital are currently operating under difficult staffing conditions, KCH officials stated in a press release Tuesday. As a result, KCH has activated its contingency and crisis staffing plan hospital-wide. In this model, officials say, exposed staff are permitted to work, but remain in quarantine under the care of the Department of Health. COVID positive staff members are following guidelines that are already in place for isolation, COVID testing and return to work.

KCH spokesperson Judy Donovan told Big Island Now the COVID-positive staff is approximately 25. She didnʻt have a total number of exposed staff at this point.

Donovan defined a COVID exposure as an unmasked interaction, within six feet or less, of cumulative 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.

“With Omicron, masked but un-goggled (or not face shielded) interaction can lead to infection if the other person is not wearing their mask,” Donovan stated.

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Under the crisis staffing model, a COVID positive staff member may be allowed to return to work with prioritization consideration given to whether the employee is asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, the release states. These staff members will adhere to isolation guidelines while at work, and remain under the care of the DOH.

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“We did not make the decision to activate contingency and crisis staffing lightly,” said KCH Chief Nurse Executive, Diane Hale. “This strategy is absolutely necessary, and it is the right decision so that we can continue to protect the health and safety of patients and staff.”

The model will be implemented on a department-by-department basis based on a daily assessment of capacity and personnel needs. The hospital’s emergency department initiated crisis staffing Tuesday, Jan. 4.

The KCH staffing strategies are in alignment with current guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the DOH.

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In addition to the temporary staffing strategies, visitor restrictions have been reinstated as
another measure to mitigate the potential for further exposure within the hospital. KCH will
reopen to visitors when it is considered safe for patients and staff.

“We want to remind everyone that this new variant is very transmissible,” said Lisa Downing, KCH
Infection Prevention Director. “It is still so important for people to practice the precautions that are effective: masking, safe physical distancing, frequent hand washing and eye protection when appropriate. These measures work, and can help keep everyone safe.”

As of this morning, there are four COVID-positive patients being treated at KCH. None of them are on ventilators and all are vaccinated. The hospital has a total of 68 patients.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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