Protocol Review Underway at Hilo Veteran’s Home

September 12, 2020, 10:00 AM HST (Updated September 12, 2020, 9:29 AM)
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

A review is underway after state and federal Veteran Affairs investigators visited Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home on Thursday and Friday.

Calls to review protocols at the Hilo facility were made after several veterans died from COVID-19 as well as many of the residents and staff becoming infected with the virus. As of Friday, 66 residents and 27 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Four of the residents are hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center and 35 total residents are cared for at the veteran’s home COVID designated area. Additionally, 17 residents and five employees have recovered.

The home is managed by the Utah-based Avalon Health Care Group. On Saturday, Avalon Health Care spokeswoman Allison Griffiths said there are clear guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which their facilities have been abiding by.

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Griffiths said she didn’t know when they would get results back from the VA’s review, adding, they want to be collaborative with the VA team.

Although several of the employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, Griffiths assured that the veteran’s home has adequate staffing, adding, this is a difficult time for them as they are in the spotlight and ridiculed.

“These are health care heroes,” Griffiths said. “I’d ask folks in the community to rally around and support them.”

On Saturday, US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) called on Avalon Health Care Group to review and improve its infection control policies and practices as all three of its facilities in the state have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.

Aside from Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, Avalon Health Care also manages Avalon Care Center and Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Honolulu.

“Given that outbreaks have occurred at all three of Avalon’s facilities in Hawai‘i, I am alarmed that Avalon’s facilities are not able to adequately protect its residents and staff,” Schatz stated in a letter to Avalon’s CEO. “Therefore, I urge you to immediately review the practices, and in particular the staffing and infection control practices, at your facilities in Hawai‘i and in other states to identify and resolve any deficiencies that could result in the spread of COVID-19. Residents of nursing homes are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and each Avalon facility needs to be sufficiently prepared to keep its residents and staff safe during the pandemic.”

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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