Hilo veterans home grappling with COVID-19 outbreak has faced scrutiny in the past

Hilo veterans home grappling with COVID-19 outbreak has faced scrutiny in the past

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hilo veterans home where 26 patients have died after contracting COVID-19 has been flagged in the past for deficiencies and lax practices.

Government inspection reports are providing insight into the past problems at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.

Prior to the outbreak, the home had faced nearly $30,000 in fines for violations dating back to 2017.

Problems noted by inspectors ranged from minor deficiencies to dirty medical equipment and failing to provide residents with adequate supervision.

In one case, a veteran known to wander was found three miles from the facility.

Overall, Yukio Okutsu is rated as “below average” by the federal government. According to Medicare.gov, its health inspections are classified as “much below average.”

The facility is also one of only three Hawaii care homes cited for abuse.

The home is under even more scrutiny now after more 80% of its residents contracted the coronavirus.

When asked about the inspection reports Thursday, a spokesperson said Thursday that inspections are “an important tool that long term care providers rely on to identify areas for improvement.”

The spokesperson continued:

"This commitment is evident by a state and federal infection control survey conducted this June that found no deficiencies and resulted in the surveyor applauding our infection control processes.

"We are now in the process of taking additional steps that are well above and beyond what is standard in nursing homes across the country. Our one and only priority is protecting the residents in our care from this historic threat and ensuring our staff have the support they need. As we do so, we will continue to work closely with Hawaii Health Systems Corp. as we do everything possible to save lives.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the facility needs to explain its missteps in responding to COVID-19. “They didn’t fully separate everyone,” Green said. “And I know that’s difficult but you have no choice.”

Since 2017, inspectors have recorded a total of 14 violations at the home.

In October 2018, the home was hit with a $20,875 fine after an off-duty nurse’s aid found a resident known to wander sitting in his wheelchair outside a store in downtown Hilo.

The resident was an estimated three miles from the facility. An investigation revealed records on his whereabouts had been “falsified” and that no one knew he was missing.

Then last fall, the facility was fined $8,957 after a resident fell off a bed and fractured their hip while staff was replacing a bed sheet. It was determined the worker failed to prevent the fall because of a “deficient practice”.

A few months prior a certified nurse was placed on “administrative leave” during an investigation after a resident had to “yell for help” after being left alone in the shower for 20 minutes.

Inspectors also noted last fall staff had failed to clean a resident’s medical equipment, a practice that inspectors said put the patient at “risk for infection.”

“It sounds like they’ve made some mistakes in the past," Green said. “These are the kinds of mistakes you see at nursing homes. But some of those are too much.”

While Yukio Okutsu does have a history of violations, it’s not the worst.

Six other care homes in Hawaii have had to pay out more in fines.

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