State to Take Over Management of Hilo Veterans Home

September 25, 2020, 4:42 PM HST (Updated September 25, 2020, 5:05 PM)
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

Mayor Harry Kim confirmed this afternoon that management of Hilo veterans home will move to the East Hawai‘i Region of Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation (HHSC).

Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home is currently managed by the Utah-based company Avalon Health Care Group. Kim has been pushing for a management change for weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, which has now claimed the lives of 26 residents.

On Friday, Kim said the transition of management has begun, but it will take a few months before it is completed as contracts, employees and budgets will have to be sorted out in the process.

“I’m very satisfied that all parties agreed that this was best for the veterans home,” Kim said Friday afternoon. “I’m very grateful for that.”

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The governing board and leadership of the East Hawai‘i Region of HHSC, consisting of Hilo Medical Center, Ka‘ū Hospital, and Hale Ho‘ola Hāmākua, reached an agreement with Avalon to transition the operations and management of the veterans home to the state entity, according HHSC Friday afternoon.

“Despite many years of successful operations, the recent, unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19 in the facility has caused a reassessment by the East Hawai‘i Regional Board responsible for the management contract,” HHSC stated in Friday’s press release.

HHSC is humbled and privileged to be entrusted with caring for Hawai‘i’s veterans, stated Dan Brinkman, CEO of the East Hawai‘i Region of HHSC.

“Over the next several months, we will be collaborating with the Avalon team to safely and effectively complete the transition.”

Avalon is also committed to ensuring a safe collaborative transition to its new leadership, said Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths.

Avalon has been contracted to manage Hawai‘i’s only state veterans home since it opened in 2007.

“Avalon deeply appreciates the service that our nation’s veterans have provided to our country,” Griffiths said. “Throughout the pandemic, Avalon has diligently sought to implement the guidelines of the Hawai`i State Department of Health, the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Avalon has been and continues to be deeply committed to the welfare of all of our residents and will work with HHSC to transition the facility to its leadership.”

Kim started pushing for changes to the administrative staff after nearly a dozen veterans died from COVID-19 earlier this month. An outbreak of the virus was identified in the facility in August.

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

Due to the high number of infections and growing death toll, Gov. David Ige called for assessments to be done on the facility. 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.

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 the next week.

Kim is grateful for the team that is currently at Yukio, adding while he’s satisfied with their work, he wishes help would’ve come sooner.

 

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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