Workers at vets home face harassment as facility faces growing questions about protocols

Healthcare worker says Hilo vets home lacked safety protocols, PPE

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A health care worker who frequently saw quarantined patients at a Hilo veterans home grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak claims the facility was “lax” with safety protocols.

Avery Chesser was a phlebotomist with Clinical Labs of Hawaii and drew blood from quarantined patients at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.

He said the home was vigilant at first, but then around April staff became “lax” with protocols and PPE.

“Starting from April it started to get a little more lax,” said Chesser, who recently left Clinical Labs because of an attendance dispute. “People were going in and out of the room, maybe to do something quick."

He said because there was a shortage of PPE, staff wouldn’t put it in.

"They wouldn’t get the protective things, almost go in thinking that they were immune,” Chesser said.

Since late August, 26 residents diagnosed with COVID-19 at the facility have died.

Avalon Health Care, which manages the home, says it followed government protocols, implemented recommendations and now its staff has been the target of threats.

“They are being harassed on social media and when out in the community. It breaks our hearts that this is occurring," said Allison Griffiths, spokesperson at Avalon Health Care Group. “They are health care heroes who are putting themselves in harms way to care for the residents whom they love like family.”

John McDermott, the longterm care ombudsman for the state Department of Health’s Office of Aging says one family lost both father and mother who were living at the veterans home.

“People are angry and folks are still dying so it’s not over yet or contained yet definitely somebody’s responsible,” he said.

“This is why facilities are supposed to jump on it immediately. Red flag, red flag, there’s COVID in the building. We’ve got to contain this,” added McDermott.

One of the recommendations from the Veterans Affairs Tiger Team was for the home to conduct more regular mitigation training for staff.

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