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2 New COVID-19 Cases Identified in Hawai‘i County

September 26, 2020, 10:00 AM HST
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

Two new COVID-19 cases were reported on the Big Island, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency reported this morning.

There are currently 16 people hospitalized for the virus at Hilo Medical Center and no new deaths were reported. The death toll remains at 28 — 26 from Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home and two others unaffiliated with veterans home.

Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation will be assuming management of the veterans home from the Utah-based company Avalon Health Care Group. Mayor Harry Kim pushed for a change in management after a cluster identified in August led to 71 infections among residents and more than two dozen deaths.

The transition will begin soon, but will take some time before it is in full effect.

“The highest priority will be placed on a smooth transition in consideration of the residents and staff,” Civil Defense stated.

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The Veterans Administration sent a Tiger Team to Yukio to assist employees with training and care of the veterans. The team will remain on site to help with operations during the transition of management.

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Along with Kim, Hawaii lawmakers expressed a need for action at Yukio.

“These veterans and their families sacrificed for our nation, and deserved the honor and care that Avalon failed to provide,” stated Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2). “I joined Mayor Harry Kim in his demand for this change and we will continue to work with the VA and all agencies involved to ensure necessary action is taken to improve the conditions at the veterans home, contain the spread of the virus, and get our veterans the treatment they need.”

Sen. Brian Schatz pushed for federal assistance during the outbreak. In a statement released Friday evening, the senator wrote, Avalon was ill-equipped to operate the veterans home and contain this outbreak.

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“What happens next will be critical,” Schatz stated. “The transition plan to a new management team must put the health and safety of patients and staff first. HHSC must also ensure that a change in management does not adversely impact staffing and census in other facilities and that all residents of nursing facilities on Hawai‘i Island receive care in the most appropriate setting.”

Schatz added that he and his staff will continue to work with federal, state, and local leaders to improve the management at the veterans home and at long-term care facilities across the state.

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