'She’s suffering’: Son left helpless as mother battles COVID-19 within a Hilo veterans home

Woman who got COVID-19 during veterans home outbreak wants to ‘give up’

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In late August, Arnold Nobriga says his mother, 83-year-old Cecelia Nobriga, got infected with COVID-19 during the beginning of the outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.

“She has that cough and she can’t bring it out,” he said.

He says her symptoms were not severe, but she’s still trying to recover.

“There’s still a chance that she can pass on with complications because you know they’re old,” he said.

Nobriga says his mother also has dementia. His father, Earl Nobriga, an Army Vietnam veteran also lived at the veterans home and passed away in January from cardiac arrest. Back then, Cecelia Nobriga was still spunky but that’s changed.

Monday morning, mother and son spoke over facetime and Cecelia is begging to come home.

“It’s hard. It’s very emotional because she is suffering in there and she doesn’t know why. She knows she has the virus and they keep telling her that she’s on recovery that she’s doing fine but then when you look at her, it seems that she don’t believe. She just wants to give up,” said Nobriga.

In separate scathing reports, a federal team from VA along with Hi-EMA, highlighted staff shortages and resignations plus weak infection control measures and not separating patients

The home was “entrenched in pre-COVID norms of respecting individual resident rights over the health of the general population,” said Hi-EMA long care lead Dr. Albert Yazawa.

“There was very little proactive preparation/planning for COVID,” said the Department of Veterans Affairs Tiger Team lead by nurse executive Dorene Sommers.

It was a “major contributing factor toward the rapid spread,” the report added.

Avalon Health Care Group insists it always adhered to federal guidelines and has followed new recommendations from the VA’s Tiger Team and State.

“That’s hurtful and for them to say that they did everything and yet they got caught not doing what they supposed to,” said Nobriga.

But the deaths have happened almost a daily basis. 24 people have died as a result of the outbreak.

“I’ll be honest with you every time the phone rings and it’s the facility. I see that number I cringe to answer the phone. I don’t want to hear the bad news,” said Nobriga.

For Nobriga, the pain comes with every phone call.

“Last night I talk to her and she says I’m getting it back I feel like I’m getting it back so I told her stay strong,” said Nobriga.

Avalon Health Care Group says many of the recommendations made by the state and feds are hospital level and that only a very small number of nursing homes nationally would have the capability to implement them. It says it’s already implemented about 60 percent of the recommendations.

Meanwhile, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has asked Governor Ige to remove Avalon Health Care Group as manager of the home.

“This is very tragic, very unacceptable to have that number of people in a small facility to be taken cared of and to have passed away in that short very period of time,” said Kim.

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