26th coronavirus fatality reported at Hilo’s Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home

After 25th reported death, leaders call for removal of Hilo care home's manager

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officials on Hawaii Island reported yet another coronavirus death Wednesday at Hilo’s Yukio Okutu Veterans Home.

The newest death brings the facility’s total to 26.

This comes as a federal team from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, along with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, revealed failures to take proper precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, in scathing reports.

The reports highlighted staff shortages and resignations, plus weak infection control measures and not separating patients.

“There’s no excuse at this point for one of our care homes to be experiencing the crisis that our veterans are going through,” said U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Both Gabbard and Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim are calling for the state to remove Avalon Health Care Group from managing the home.

“Avalon is a mainland company. They’re also responsible for other care homes on the mainland which again points to the fact that they should have known better,” said Gabbard.

In Hi-EMA’s assessment, Dr. Albert Yazawa, long-term care lead, wrote about “major errors” and “complacency.”

“Do NOT wait until routine mass testing. Do NOT delay. Test ASAP for any suspicious clinical symptoms even behavior changes,” he wrote using bold letters.

There’s now what’s called a “Tiger Team” of 20 people from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at the facility and Mayor Kim says they can take over if Avalon is removed.

“After these people (VA Tiger Team) coming here, they are more than capable of taking charge in my opinion and that’s why I wrote that letter that they (Avalon Health Care) be immediately removed.”

Avalon says it has followed protocol and recommendations throughout the pandemic according federal guidelines.

“This is not the time for finger pointing, it’s the time to rally around the dedicated healthcare workers on the front lines of this pandemic,” said Allison Griffiths, spokesperson and VP of Legal for Avalon Health Care Group.

“Playing politics with a health crisis helps no one,” she added.

AARP says other states have mass testing in nursing homes, volunteer Tiger Teams are ready to go and that the state of Hawaii should have acted sooner to help Yukio and all nursing homes where infection can rapidly spread.

“They need to be deployed sooner. They should not be deployed once there’s an infection. They need to be deployed now,” said Kealii Lopez, state director for AARP Hawaii

The state facility is owned by the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. The public entity says it’s focused on ensuring the remaining veterans are properly protected and cared for.

“The future of the home and its management is being given serious consideration,” said Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation in a statement.

“We’re working with the Hawai’i Health Systems Corporation and the Department of Health to determine the best outcome for the residents of the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home,” said Governor David Ige in a statement.

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