2 more deaths reported at a Hilo veterans home as Mayor Kim calls for changes

Updated: Sep. 14, 2020 at 11:43 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two more COVID-19 deaths were reported Sunday afternoon tied to a Hilo veterans care home.

The death toll at Hilo’s Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home rose to 12 a day after Mayor Harry Kim called for drastic leadership changes from within.

On Saturday, Mayor Kim held a rare news conference to call for the the suspension and replacement of administrative staff at the home, saying their failed response has led to the worsening outbreak and alarming number of deaths.

“I’m not speaking behind anybody’s back. I don’t like where I’m standing, I don’t even like this press conference, but we made a promise and we did not keep it,” Kim said on the promise to serve and protect the veterans who have fought for this country.

As of Sunday, 66 residents and 28 employees at the facility tested positive for coronavirus, hospital officials confirm, an outbreak Kim said Avalon Healthcare Group and the state are responsible for.

The 12 deaths at the facility have not yet been included in the statewide total. Officials say they are waiting on additional medical records from the facility before including the numbers in the statewide count.

Kim said Avalon Healthcare Group is contracted by the state, a decision the Hawaii County Mayor said he did not support.

“I felt that it should be people here meaning the state hospital so I felt [that was] the better attachment to this facility,” said Kim.

But Allison Griffiths of Avalon Healthcare Group, says the veterans' home was not slow in responding to the rise in infections.

“The second we learned; we were doing proactive measures certainly following all the CDC guidance as evidenced by such a long history of negative tests,” said Griffiths.

While Kim is asking for a change in administration, Senator Brian Schatz sent a letter to Avalon Healthcare Group urging the health group to improve its infection control policies as all three of Avalon’s facilities in Hawaii have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak.

“Therefore, I urge you to immediately review the practices, and in particular the staffing and infection control practices, at your facilities in Hawai’i and in other states to identify and resolve any deficiencies that could result in the spread of COVID-19.”

“There should have been people up there trying to correct the wrongs that was already pointed out,” said Kim.

In response to the mayor’s press conference, Avalon Healthcare Group released a statement.

“We continue to work closely with representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and state and local health officials, who have applicable expertise to bring to bear as we work together to save lives. Our residents are our one and only priority. We do not have the luxury of time to engage in any fights other than beating this virus. That is where our focus will remain.”

Hawaii News Now reached out to the governor’s office after Kim’s press conference and we have yet to receive a response.

This story will be updated.

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