13th coronavirus fatality reported at Hilo veterans home as more federal aid pledged

Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 7:57 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hilo veterans home scrambling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak saw its 13th coronavirus fatality Monday.

The news comes as the US Department of Veterans Affairs planned to send a larger medical team to the facility later this week. The team will include two dozen medical and safety experts.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, a veteran himself, said the outbreak has been devastating.

On Monday morning, he went to a funeral of one of the veterans from the home who died.

“When I found out on Sunday two passed away, I said dear God I’m so sorry for what I didn’t do,” Kim said.

Kim has called for the suspension of the administration. He said the VA has assured him it’s now taking immediate action.

Amid questions of who is responsible for the deaths, Kim says everyone should take responsibility for those who served our county.

“We betrayed the trust,” said Kim.

Gov. David Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that state regulators went to the facility to inspect the home and audit its activities.

“There was a team made up of federal and state experts that went over there to interview the staff and find out the actions,” he said.

Avalon Health Care Group manages the veterans home and two other facilities.

It’s also seen COVID-19 deaths at other Hawaii homes.

At the Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Maikiki, the company reported five deaths. At the Avalon Care Center in Kalihi, there have been three deaths.

Avalon Health Care Group is trying to stop the spread while defending its reputation.

“Our long-term care facilities have been hardest hit by this pandemic,” said Allison Griffiths, spokesperson and vice president of Legal Affairs for Avalon Health Care Group.

“We also know that we have a job to do and our number one concern is the safety and health of our residents,” she added.

Retired Army Col. Deb Lewis in Hilo is on the Mayor’s Veterans Advisory Committee and is senior vice commander for Hawaii Veterans of Foreign Wars.

She says the veterans home needs additional staffing and not the ‘blame game.’

“The staff right now they are in war. They’ve been in a war for months and the coronavirus that’s the true enemy right here,” said Lewis.

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