Senator Schatz: COVID cluster at Hilo Veterans Home calls for VA to step in


HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — The State Health Department says it is considering additional oversight at the Yukio Okutsu Veterans State Home in Hilo. This as an 8th death was reported at the facility, where 58 residents and 18 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The crisis at the center is setting off alarms.

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In a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs and to Governor David Ige sent over the weekend, Senator Brian Schatz raises concerns about the handling of the outbreak and calls for immediate federal intervention.

As of Sept. 7, 58 residents have tested positive out of the 74 who currently live at the facility. That is more than half who got COVID.

Senator Schatz tells us he does not feel confident the situation is under control.

“While they are trying to increase staffing and separate COVID positive-residents, they should use infection prevention specialists from VA, and mobilize all of the state government to get this home the expertise and materials they need,” he said.

The state says officials are conducting PCR testing every 3 to 5 days while additional oversight measures are being considered.
Here is their full statement:
“The Department of Health Hawaii District Health Office is working closely with the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home and the County of Hawaii to investigate, isolate, and monitor all positive cases and ensure the health and safety of residents and workers. The Veterans Home, in coordination with a dedicated DOH team, focused specifically on cases associated with healthcare facilities, a federal expert from the CDC, and Hawaii District Health Office staff has been assessing, evaluating, and conducting ongoing control and prevention measures at the facility since the identification of positive cases there. The Veteran’s Home has stopped all admissions to the facility and is conducting sequential PCR testing every 3-5 days of all its staff and residents. All residents who test positive have been isolated in cohorts within the facility. All workers who test positive are investigated, isolated, and monitored by the Hawaii District Health Office. Additional oversight measures are also being considered.”

Schatz also believes the State and County have been too slow to respond to the crisis, a comment that angered Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.

“We have asked for a review of what is happening for some time now and I’ve been assured by the Governor yesterday and the day before, rather, that they will look into it. And this should not be, I’m told they will send a review team made up of whoever their team is to come over here to Hilo hopefully by tomorrow to start the review,” said Mayor Kim.

The Hawaii Health Systems Corporation welcomes additional support.
Here’s their full statement from Dan Brinkman, CEO of East Hawaii Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, which includes Hilo Medical Center, Hale Ho’ola Hamakua, and Ka’u Hospital:
“We welcome the support local, state, and federal agencies for the COVID-19 outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. The COVID virus is a beast and additional expert help to combat it is greatly appreciated.
Avalon Healthcare, the home’s managing company since 2007, is working tirelessly to stem the outbreak, and I greatly appreciate the efforts of their local dedicated staff. The veterans are like their family and the recent losses are personal. My heart goes out to them.
Hilo Medical Center is working closely with Avalon to support and also provide the best hospital care for these residents.”

Avalon Healthcare – the Home’s managing company – says it’s working tirelessly to protect the residents. And there’s reason for optimism, with 14 residents recovering, and it hopes to see more.
Here’s what else a spokeswoman for the company had to say:
“As we continue the fight on the front lines of this historic pandemic, we thank Senator Schatz for his calls for support. Now is the time for all the people of Hawaii to rally around our nation’s heroes and those working diligently to keep them safe. COVID-19 is an insidious, devastating, and highly contagious virus that is hitting our nation’s nursing homes the hardest. We are so thankful for our dedicated staff who are working tirelessly to protect our Veterans. It is so difficult for them to lose Veterans whom they love like family. Our staff is truly amazing and have hearts of gold. While one life lost to this terrible virus is too many, there is reason for optimism as well. We have had 14 residents recover so far and are hopeful to see more in the coming days. Our Veterans are warriors and we love them dearly.”

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