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Mayor Calls for Suspension of VA Home Administrative Staff

September 12, 2020, 4:54 PM HST
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

In a rare press conference Saturday, Mayor Harry Kim called for the suspension of the administration at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home until a review of the facility and its handling of a COVID-19 outbreak is completed, Mayor Harry Kim announced during a rare press conference Saturday.

A cluster of cases was identified in the home in August. As of Saturday, 66 residents and 27 employees tested positive for COVID-19. There have been 10 deaths and four veterans are hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center.

Seventeen residents and five employees have recovered.

Kim reached out to Gov. David Ige calling for a review of the home’s COVID-19 response protocols after the sixth death was reported on Sept. 4.

“You scream out and say this is not acceptable how can this be, and progressively it goes on and on,” Kim stated.

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State and federal Veteran Affairs investigators were at the Hilo home this week conducting a review. During a review meeting on Friday, Kim asked investigators where they go from here.

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According to the mayor, a report will be sent to Avalon Health Care Group, the Utah-based company that manages the facility. The report will ask them to address items identified that need changing. Investigators will return in a few days to ensure those changes have been made.

“Yesterday I said,’ totally unacceptable,'” Kim said during the press conference. “Anyone there will tell you if you were under my command you wouldn’t even go home. You’d do whatever you can from here on in, which is already way too late.”

Kim is calling for the veteran’s home administrative staff to been suspended until the investigation is complete. Interim administrators would be required to correct the wrongs identified.

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“I’m not calling this press conference behind anyone’s back,” Kim said. “What is happening is a sadness for the families and veterans who are there that cannot ever be corrected. Only thing I hope now is that we can prevent further harm.”

This morning, an Avalon spokesperson confirmed a review of the Hilo facility occurred on Thursday and Friday, adding the team’s that visited the veteran’s made no recommendation to suspend administrative staff.

“We continue to work closely with representatives from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and state and local health officials, who have applicable expertise to bring to bear as we work together to save lives,” stated spokeswoman Allison Griffiths in an email to Big Island Now on Saturday. “Our residents are our one and only priority. We do not have the luxury of time to engage in any fights other than beating this virus. That is where our focus will remain.”

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