Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over 1 COVID Fatality at Hilo Veterans Home

October 1, 2020, 7:30 AM HST (Updated October 1, 2020, 8:15 AM)
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Chris Drayer (PC: Jeffrey Foster)

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in 3rd Circuit Court over the COVID-19-related death of one of the residents at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home.

The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 30 in 3rd Circuit Court against Yukio’s managing company, Utah-based Avalon Health Care Group and four of its affiliates. The court document alleges Drayer, 70, died due to Avalon’s substandard care and non-existent health safety practices.

Attorney Jeffrey Foster filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Noah Bennett-Drayer and Daniel Bennett-Drayer after their late father, who reportedly tested positive for the virus on Aug. 31 and Died on Sept. 2. Drayer was among 27 other residents who died after a COVID breakout, identified in August, spread through the Hilo facility.

“Chris Drayer did not deserve to die at Yukio. He died because Avalon failed to keep him safe,” Foster stated. “It is beyond belief that nearly six months after the onset of the worst pandemic in 100 years, a facility caring for the most vulnerable members of our community could fail to practice the most basic of protections for its residents.”

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Drayer had been at Yukio for about two months. He was scheduled to be released the week he died. Foster said one of his sons who lives in Volcano had installed ramps and put in bars so he could bring his father home.

“What the Avalon companies have done at Yukio represents a systemic failure to institute and follow established policies, practices and procedures that care facilities around the country have utilized to protect vulnerable residents,” Foster stated.

A transition of management from Avalon to East Hawai‘i Region of Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation (HHSC) is underway after local leaders pushed to remove the Utah company from the veterans home.

Foster said Avalon has refused to take responsibility for its mismanagement. As a result, Drayer’s family felt the only option for justice for their father was to file the wrongful death lawsuit.

“The health and safety of our residents is always our top priority,” said Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths. “While I cannot comment on individual cases due to privacy laws, we mourn every life that has been lost to this historic pandemic as our heroic healthcare workers continue to fight to save lives.”

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial in these matters, exempting the issue from arbitration. The lawsuit seeks special and general damages that would be proven in trial, legal fees and leave to include Survival Action for Drayer’s estate.

Drayer was a decorated honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army. He served two tours in Vietnam and was awarded numerous medals and commendations for his service, including: the Bronze Star; the National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Vietnam Campaign Medal; and Army Commendation Medal as well as Meritorious Unit Citations.

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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