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Avalon Releases VA Assessment on Hilo Veterans Home

September 19, 2020, 7:40 AM HST
* Updated September 19, 8:03 AM
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VA “Tiger Team” working with staff at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. (PC: Amy Rolhfs, VA public affairs officer)

Three assessments on the Hilo veterans home were completed or are underway after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility led to widespread infection and nearly 20 deaths.

Avalon Health Care Group, a Utah-based company that manages Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, released the assessment completed by Veteran Affairs and provided to Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA). The report expressed various concerns, among which were cross-contamination. Read the full report above.

In an effort toward full transparency with the community, Avalon stated Friday in an email to Big Island Now they were releasing the report, which includes their response to each concern raised.

“The Facility and its staff have been fighting tirelessly every day to stop the outbreak and care for the veterans entrusted to us,” Avalon officials stated. “We are working side-by-side with the VA team on the ground to accomplish that goal.”

Teams from HI-EMA, the state and federal VA, and OHCA have visited the facility since Sept. 10. The DOH/OHCA unannounced inspection report is being completed Friday and will be transmitted to the facility before being shared with the public.

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Additionally, the Veterans Affairs “Tiger Team” arrived at the home this week. The 20-person team, which includes nurses, infectious disease physician and nurse, in addition to nurse managers, safety officers, industrial hygienists and engineers, is part of the VA’s “Fourth Mission,” supporting the nation’s public health response in a national emergency. The VA team will provide training and support to staff for the next two weeks.

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“They’re here to help the staff,” said Amy Rohlfs, VA public affairs officer.

Avalon also deployed 12 front-line care staff and specialists from the mainland.

“The nation’s nursing homes have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Avalon stated in the report’s executive summary. “Our number one priority is and has always been, the health, safety, and wellbeing of our veterans and residents. We are honored to care for them and take that responsibility very seriously. We are thankful to have such an amazing team of healthcare heroes that work for us day in and day out to provide outstanding care.”

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Mayor Harry Kim has been highly critical of what’s happened at Yukio. On Sept. 12, he held a rare press conference in Hilo where he publically called for the home’s administrative staff to temporarily step down until all assessments were completed.

“I regret what has already happened,” Kim said. “We now have competent people who are here mitigating the harm as much as possible.”

While Hilo Medical Center reported 18 deaths at Yukio Okutu State Veterans Home, the state officially confirmed 15 on Friday. According to a press release from Hawai‘i COVID-19 Joint Information Center, 12 deaths were verified COVID-19 deaths at the home Friday.

Kim said the county verifies its fatalities from Hilo Medical Center and Yukio.

“As soon as a person passes away the hospital calls us,” Kim said.

According to a daily report from HMC, there are currently 60 residents at Yukio with 28 receiving care in the home’s COVID-designated area. Four of the residents are being treated at HMC.

Sixty-nine veterans and 30 employees have tested positive since the outbreak was identified in August. Nineteen residents and seven employees have recovered.

No residents have been moved to other long-term health care facilities at this time.

“We reached out to other facilities in the area and none were able to accept the transfers,” said Allison Griffiths, spokeswoman for Avalon. Once a facility has COVID positives residents or staff, it typically cannot accept new admissions.”

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