Community Groups Advocate for Care Homes During COVID-19 Pandemic

(Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)

by Toy Arre

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wannette Gaylord would get at least 10 calls a day from concerned adult residential care homeowners. They didn’t know what to do if a resident was showing signs of the coronavirus and couldn’t find enough masks and other personal protective equipment.

Gaylord, president of the Alliance of Residential Care Home Administrators in Hawaii and the owner of four adult residential care homes for kupuna in McCully, wanted to help, but she had the same questions and no answers.

“There was nothing to follow. They didn’t know what direction to take,” Gaylord said. “Initially, it was tremendously difficult.” 

So, Gaylord along with AARP Hawaii and other stakeholders teamed up to get answers on the best ways to help kupuna in their care and to help community care home operators get access to personal protective equipment and, eventually, vaccines.

The more than 1,600 adult residential care homes and foster care homes scattered throughout the state are where the majority of kupuna in Hawaii get live-in long-term care. They provide more than 5,500 beds compared to about 4,492 beds in Hawaii’s 47 nursing homes. The community care homes are also more affordable for families and save the state money in Medicaid payments.

Audrey Suga-Nakagawa, AARP Hawaii’s advocacy director said advocates for the community care homes lobbied the state Legislature so that the care homes could access PPE purchased with federal CARES Act money.  Gaylord said eventually several care homes were able to get free masks, face shields and other PPE. That was very helpful, Gaylord said, especially since the prices for PPE had increased by more than 500% early last year.

Gaylord said another problem was that guidelines for infection control, visitation and other protocols were designed for larger facilities like hospitals and nursing homes and needed to address the needs of care homes with fewer staff and less space. It was confusing to figure out what they had to do, Gaylord said.

Suga-Nakamura, with the help from the University of Hawaii Medical School, healthcare professionals, care home operators, the long-term care ombudsman and other stakeholders, developed protocols for care homes that could be printed out and put it into a binder.

It included information on everything from what to do if you suspect COVID-19 in your home to the phone numbers of companies that would transport someone with COVID-19 to the hospital and medical appointments.

When vaccines became available to kupuna, the advocates made sure care and foster home residents and staff got the same priority as nursing homes for the first doses of the vaccines.

With the help of the state Department of Human Services, they were able to get local pharmacies to vaccinate residents, operators and their families in the home.

“It was a very grassroots effort, and people were asking, ‘How can we help?’” Suga-Nakagawa said. “That’s the spirit of what we’ve seen during this time of crisis.”

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