Big Island Mayor Harry Kim wants drastic changes at the Veterans Home in Hilo where 24 residents have now died. This, as a second report critical of the Home’s COVID-19 response is released.

More than a week ago, Mayor Kim wanted Avalon Health Care – the facility’s managing company – suspended from administration until a review was completed. Now he’s taking it a step further and asked the Governor for their removal.

“‘I have no confidence and trust in Avalon.’ The next paragraph reads, ‘because of Avalon’s failures, Avalon must be immediately removed from further administration of the Veterans Home,'” said Mayor Kim in a letter to Governor David Ige on Monday.

“A lot of things I don’t put in writing because, you know, it’s grandstanding to some people, but I have to get a point across,” he said.

His strong criticism follows the rising death toll and a recent assessment of the facility made by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, there’s a team from the VA helping the Veterans Home, which Mayor Kim suggests could take over in the meantime.

“I have full confidence in them. Just the report alone tells you the quality of their inspection and quality of those people,” said Mayor Kim.

In a statement, Avalon says:
“We are very disappointed with how politically charged this situation has gotten. The lack of collaboration and support by the Department of Health and other state agencies is unprecedented. Avalon operates in 6 states. This is the only state where we have seen this type of blatant politization of a crisis situation and a complete lack of support, collaboration, or assistance following an outbreak in a health care facility. In every other state in which we operate, the state Department of Health has offered support, guidance, collaboration, PPE, testing, etc. to our facilities as the common goal among all involved is the health and safety of the residents and the community. We are also heartbroken by the hostility and lack of aloha towards our staff – who are all local folks who live in Hilo – and have put themselves in harm’s way to care for our veterans whom they love like family. They are healthcare heroes – as are all health care workers – who are fighting on the front lines of this historic public health crisis.”

On Monday, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency also released its findings. According to the latest inspection report there were:
-patient movement between units,
-lack of physical distancing measures for staff and patients,
-and the biggest concern is continued staff positives with each mass testing.

Dr. K. Albert Yazawa who submitted the state’s report says:
“I believe that staff acquired COVID at the YOSVH due to less than optimal day-to-day personal prevention practices as well as the lack of good systemic practices which may have limited individual exposure like better cohorting strategies, stricter PPE use in common areas like the central nursing area or an alternate set-up made available for them that would limit contamination, and higher staffing ratios in the COVID unit.”

Following both reports, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard released a statement saying:
“With twenty-four deaths and 70 positive infections of our veterans, the VA’s report makes it clear that the facility’s management failed to take action to prevent this massive outbreak at a home entrusted with the responsibility of caring for our veterans. The culture of complacency that allowed this incredible loss of life and suffering must end. Those responsible for this must be held accountable. I will continue to support all efforts to conduct oversight and follow-through to ensure immediate action is taken to keep our veterans and their caregivers safe. Sadly, for many of the residents and their families, it’s too late.”

Avalon previously said they have implemented many changes in response to the outbreak, and have been following CDC recommendations.