HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — COVID-19 has devastated state veterans home in Hilo.

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The managing company of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, Avalon Health Care, reported two new deaths on Sept. 20, totaling 23 at that facility. This comes after a recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs highlights infection control issues.

The 16-page report listed a number of observations and included recommendations. It stated that the veterans home’s basic understanding of segregation and workflow seemed to be lacking.

According to the report:

“Many practices observed seemed as if they were a result of recent changes. Even though these are improvements, these are things that should have been in place from the pandemic onset and a major contributing factor towards the rapid spread.”

Avalon Health Care claims that it has been following CDC and state guidelines. Much of what’s in the report goes above and beyond that.

“You know, thankfully, a lot of them were already in place. The VA team, you know, was there for four hours, and they didn’t have a chance to review our training records, or medical records, our pandemic plan and other things,” said Allison Griffiths of Avalon.

Among many issues, the VA assessment team observed:

  • Staff not consistently caring for residents only on one hall. Floating among
    two or more halls.
  • They saw some residents wandering throughout unit/floor into other hallways.

According to the report, the administrator stated there were no current processes in place to limit housekeeping staff or maintenance personnel from intermixing from the COVID
unit to other areas.

Griffiths says that the home already implemented some of the VA’s recommendations like separating its COVID unit.

“And so it’s appropriate to cohort them all together with dedicated staffing, of course, but one of the items that the report recommended was to split that up into three mini sub units and have dedicated staffing for each one. And we did do that immediately,” said Griffiths.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim says that more than a week ago, he recommended for the immediate suspension of the veteran’s home administration.

“It just reaffirms things that you feel are not right. That’s why I say not acceptable. I don’t have to point to the numbers. It was just something that didn’t happen overnight. It was a growing and growing thing,” said Mayor Kim.

The report did identify some of the best practices at the home, like touchless door entry in several areas throughout the facility.

Currently, there’s a VA team on the ground assisting the Home.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz shares his thoughts after the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.

Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8

This report makes clear that Avalon did not take the steps necessary to protect its residents and staff. We have known all along that nursing homes and their residents were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, so it is infuriating to see that basic infection control practices were not in place months after the pandemic began. Avalon must take immediate action to address the recommendations of this report to ensure the safety of the veterans and staff at the State Veterans Home.

My staff and I will continue to closely monitor this outbreak and help provide any additional federal resources that are available.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz

The Department of Veterans Affairs report on the Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home in Hilo includes Avalon Healthcare’s response. Avalon Healthcare manages the veterans home.

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