Hilo veterans home sees another COVID-19 death, bringing total to 18

15th COVID-19 death reported at veterans home as relocation effort turns up short

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - COVID-19 fatalities at a veterans home continue to mount.

On Friday, the Hilo Medical Center confirmed one more death at the Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home, bringing the total to 18.

The news comes as members of a large medical disaster response team from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was set to start arriving at the veterans home.

Most of the 61 veterans who live at the facility have been infected with the virus.

On Tuesday, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said he was coordinating with state emergency management and health officials to find safe harbor facilities for the residents who have tested negative.

Avalon Health Care Group, which manages the home, told Hawaii News Now that the facility reached out to other skilled nursing facilities and none felt they could care for them or were not accepting new admissions.

Avalon says all of the residents remain in their care.

“Following consultations with our colleagues in nearby facilities, it was determined that this was the best course of action,” said Avalon spokesperson Allison Griffiths.

The Department of Health regulates the facilities licensing.

“Clearly, the Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home has been a concern of ours,' said Gov. David Ige.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ige and HI-EMA director Kenneth Hara did not answer HNN’s question directly about the effort to find alternative facilities, but did say the emergency management department’s long-term care lead and a state quality assurance assurance team responded to the crisis.

“They did a top to bottom review of procedures and policies,” said Ige.

“We put in a request for assistance and we are receiving about 20 health care specialists. These will be nurses specialized in infection control, employee health and then other specialties for example safety and industrial hygiene, housekeeping and logistics,” said Hara.

That team arrives from various VA facilities across the country Thursday.

Katie Kalama, chief of safety and security with VA Pacific Islands Healthcare, said the outbreak at the facility is hitting home. She was deployed to Hilo last week with an earlier team of experts.

“This has been a challenge for everybody," she said. “Having a pandemic like this is not something we expected so working through different challenges and how to create different mitigation between employees and the veterans, trying to prevent them from being exposed to the virus.”

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.

Amid questions of who is responsible for the deaths, he said everyone should take responsibility for those who served our county. “We betrayed the trust,” said Kim.

This story will be updated.

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