Hilo veterans home COVID-19 death toll now at 22 after 4 more fatalities

Updated: Sep. 19, 2020 at 3:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - COVID-19 fatalities at a Hilo veterans home continue to mount.

Saturday afternoon, the Hilo Medical Center confirmed the four latest deaths at the Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home. Officials say two of the patients died overnight Friday, and a third on Saturday morning. A fourth death had been confirmed by 3 p.m.

The facility’s death toll is now at 22.

Hospital officials also provided an update on total cases at the Hilo Medical Center. Here’s the latest info as of 3 p.m. Saturday:

Hilo Medical Center:

  • 17 total COVID-positive patients are hospitalized: 6 in ICU, 10 in COVID Unit, 1 in Extended Care Facility
  • Admissions to the Extended Care Facility remain paused until the situation is resolved.
  • 2 total deaths have occurred in the hospital on Sept. 8 and 18.

Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home:

  • 55 residents currently at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, 24 of which are receiving care in the home’s COVID designated area
  • 4 residents are hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center
  • 22 total resident deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred. “We offer our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones,” medical officials said.
  • 4 deaths to report today (Saturday) related to COVID-19 at the veterans home within the last 24 hours.
  • 19 residents and 7 employees have recovered
  • A total of 69 residents and 30 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in this outbreak

The latest numbers come 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.

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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