WHT editorial: Hospital’s timing seems suspicious

It seems petty, unprofessional and irresponsible.

Kona Community Hospital let down West Hawaii this week — there is no other way to put it — by seemingly letting a grudge influence a decision on when to share important information regarding safety in public health with the community.

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Instead of sharing updated information with West Hawaii Today on an infection it’s fighting, the Kealakekua hospital, for whatever reason, didn’t.

Instead, it gave the information to several other news organizations — including several off-island — but not to the outlet that broke the story and with which the hospital shares an island and community.

The back story is this:

The hospital, or KCH, is in the middle of a scabies outbreak. It was first reported in West Hawaii Today on Nov. 27. The outbreak was identified Nov. 19 and a source inside the hospital told WHT at least 50 staff had been infected at the time.

Scabies, for anyone unfamiliar, sound woefully dreadful.

They’re microscopic mites that burrow and lay eggs in the outer layers of the skin and can live there for months. They can spread quickly from person to person through direct skin-to-skin contact. Uncomfortable for sure, but treatable and not fatal.

The WHT story was flush with more detail than a run-of-the-mill press release thanks to the inside source. The source said the outbreak caused a major scheduling headache for the intensive care unit, when a vast majority of the staff had to rotate out for a 24-hour period at one point or another over the course of a week.

The story went wide. Fox News and the Washington Post were some of the bigger names to run with it.

On Thursday, though, the hospital took what appears a petty step.

There was new information on the scabies front and KCH issued a press release to news outlets announcing as much. The news release said it had implemented “additional procedures and protocols as part of their ongoing management of a scabies outbreak at the hospital.”

Hospital leadership “decided to temporarily close all patient units to visitors until further notice as an aggressive preventive measure to protect patients and staff from potential exposure to infection,” the release stated.

It was sent to Big Island Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, to name a few, who posted it Thursday evening. But it was never sent to West Hawaii Today.

Simple omission? We’re not buying it.

West Hawaii Today has always been on the hospital’s public relations department emailing list, headed by Judy Donovan, regional director of marketing for KCH.

WHT was sent, for example, a release on Sept. 14 about the Kona Community Hospital Auxiliary awarding nursing scholarships. The yoga on the beach event the hospital was looking to promote? Yes, we received that one on May 25.

On Friday morning, WHT left messages and emailed KCH asking about the timing of the press release. We still hadn’t received one by Friday, and we wanted to know why.

The hospital never called back, but shortly before noon, Donovan emailed over the press release. When asked in a followup email why WHT was omitted from Thursday’s release, Donovan chalked it up to some sort of glitch.

“I’m not sure, but it seems my Outlook Media contact list is odd because I’ve been updating addresses on it all day as a result of the yesterday’s Media Advisory,” she wrote.

WHT has been a good, fair partner with the hospital in the community we both strive to serve. But we can’t sweep what happened Thursday and Friday under the rug. Sometimes news is bad, and confronting that is part of the deal.

Glitch? Again, we’re not buying it.

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It seems more likely petty motives were at play when it came time for the health care provider to decide how to notify West Hawaii’s residents about navigating a health hazard that could affect us all.

Not only does it seem irresponsible, but potentially dangerous, too.