Ige Awaits Completion of OHCA Assessment on Hilo Veterans Home

September 25, 2020, 11:30 AM HST (Updated September 25, 2020, 11:30 AM)
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

No decisions have been made over the future management of Hilo’s veterans home as of this morning.

A COVID-19 outbreak at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home had Mayor Harry Kim calling for the removal of administrators as nearly all residents were infected with the virus and 26 of the veterans died to date.

“The damage done is unconscionable in regards to the deaths of so many people,” Kim said. “I only hope, at this point, to minimize harm.”

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) conducted independent reports on the coronavirus cluster at the home. The state Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance (OHCA) is also conducting a report that has yet to be made public.

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Earlier this week, Kim said he’s been in conversations with Gov. Ige about moving management of the home from the Utah-based company Avalon Health Care Group to Hilo Medical Center. Cindy McMillan, spokeswoman for Gov. Ige’s office, confirmed Ige had spoken to Kim on this issue and will respond formally after the OHCA report has been finalized and he’s had a chance to review it.

“We appreciate of the Mayor’s confidence and support over the years,” said HMC Spokeswoman Elena Cabatu. “We are aware of his request and are having thoughtful discussions about the management of the facility.”

Additionally, the VA “Tiger Team” arrived at the home last week. The 18-person team, which includes nurses, an 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 about another week.

Avalon Spokeswoman Allison Griffiths didn’t speak directly about the possibility of a change in management at Yukio.

“Our one and only priority is protecting the residents in our care from this historic threat and ensuring our staff have the support they need,” Griffiths said. “As we do so, we will continue to work closely with Hawai‘i Health Systems Corp. as we do everything possible to save lives.”

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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