Mayor Kim Seeks Review of Hilo’s VA Home After 6th Reported Coronavirus Death

September 5, 2020, 6:00 AM HST (Updated September 4, 2020, 8:15 PM)
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Mayor Harry Kim PC: google images june 2019

With half of the residents at Hilo’s VA home testing positive for COVID-19, the Hawai‘i County mayor has asked Gov. David Ige to conduct a review of the facility’s response to the outbreak.

“It’s totally unacceptable what’s happening over there,” Mayor Harry Kim told Big Island Now on Friday. “We can’t allow this.”

As of Sept. 4, 47 residents and 18 employees at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home tested positive for the coronavirus. The cluster was identified at the home in August. Six residents have died, all with unlying health conditions.

Since the home is under state jurisdiction, Kim reached out to the governor asking for a review of the home’s operations in its response to the pandemic and care of the residents.

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The home, built in 2008, is managed by the Avalon Health Care Group. There are approximately 78 residents and 143 staff. Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home is Hawai‘i’s only post-acute care and rehabilitation facility geared specifically for veterans.

Kim recalled how he fought to bring the VA home to Hilo and takes what’s happening there personal.

“I remember many talks I had telling the state how the (Hilo) community will make it home, not an institution,” Kim said. “I feel like we’ve betrayed their trust.”

Allison Griffiths, spokeswoman for Avalon Health Care, said the facility is following strict CDC guidelines. All those ill with the virus are being treated on a separate floor from the other residents and has a dedicated staff that doesn’t cross over to other parts of the home.

Additionally, there are separate entrances for those treating COVID-19 patients.

All staff is wearing N95 respirators. Residents are required to wear masks when they are not in their rooms.

Griffiths 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.

Griffiths was appreciative of the dedicated staff at the VA home which described as health care heroes.

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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