3 Veterans Hospitalized at HMC

September 5, 2020, 4:57 PM HST (Updated September 5, 2020, 4:59 PM)
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

A total of 54 residents at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home have now tested positive for COVID-19, officials confirmed Saturday afternoon, with three currently hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at HMC has increased with five patients now in ICU and eight in the COVID unit.

Five VA home residents have recovered and there were no new deaths reported, however, HMC corrected the number of veteran deaths from six down to five. According to Avalon Health Care Group, the company that manages the VA home, the resident who passed away on Sept. 3 had a pending PCR test, which later turned out to be negative.

It was reported as a COVID-19 death initially because the veteran tested positive during a rapid/antigen test in HMC’s emergency room.

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As of Saturday, 41 residents are being cared for at the VA home’s COVID-19 designated area. Additionally, the number of infections among employees remains at 18.

US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) released a statement Saturday calling on Gov. David Ige to step up efforts to prevent such outbreaks at nursing homes.

“The outbreak we are seeing at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home is heartbreaking,” Schatz stated.

The senator and his staff are working with state and local officials to make sure they utilize all the federal help that’s available. The Department of Veterans Affairs is capable of doing, even more, Schatz explained, but “we cannot be shy about asking them for help.”

Additionally, Schatz said there needs to be a focus on infection control best practices to contain the outbreak. The state should ask VA to share infection control specialists, provide additional testing, and continue to share PPE to get this under control.

“Residents of senior homes are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19,” the senator stated. “That’s why it is also absolutely critical that the facility follows infection control guidelines and that the state dramatically expands testing at these facilities to continue to protect these vulnerable residents and their care workers.”

Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim has also requested a review of the VA home’s protocols, calling the number of deaths unacceptable.

Allison Griffiths, spokeswoman for Avalon Health Care said Avalon would want to work with the mayor if a review were to take place.

“We understand and appreciate the concern the community and leadership have,” she said Friday.

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. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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