Third fatality confirmed at Veterans Home on Big Island

Coronavirus

HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — Over the weekend, two COVID-related fatalities were confirmed at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home on Hawaii Island.

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The deaths were confirmed by the Hawaii Department of Health on Aug. 31.

On the morning of Aug. 31, another death was announced by the facility, which wasn’t added in the statewide COVID-deaths on Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 31, the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home said:

Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home has been following the guidance and directives of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the County and State Health Departments regarding COVID-19 and infection control and prevention.

As of Aug. 31, 28 residents and 10 staff members have tested positive for the virus.

Of those residents, three are being cared for at Hilo Medical Center and 19 are being cared for at the residence in a dedicated COVID unit.

“The COVID unit is separated from the rest of the facility by a physical barrier and has dedicated staff who only care for the residents on that unit,” the press release stated.

“Based upon our contact tracing, we believe the virus entered the facility through a staff member who was exposed in the community. We do currently have a cluster of three or more residents and/or staff with new-onset respiratory symptoms in the last 72 hours.

All residents and staff were tested for COVID-19 on August 23-24. All residents and staff were re-tested August 26-27. We have received many of those results, but some remain pending. We will continue to update you. A third round of all resident and staff testing will take place early next week.

The positive staff members are self-isolating at home and will not return to work until medically cleared to do so. All staff members are screened before entering the facility pursuant to CDC guidelines and are sent home if they report any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or other illness. Any residents experiencing signs or symptoms are isolated and tested.
All staff are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) pursuant to CDC guidelines.

We are working diligently to limit the spread of the virus to other residents of the facility and are communicating this news to our residents, staff, and their loved ones.

We are strictly limiting access to the building and carefully screening all people entering our facility in accordance with CDC and CMS guidelines. At this time, only essential visitors and vendors are being allowed access to the building as determined on a case-by-case basis. We are also following the CDC and CMS guidance that applies once a nursing facility has a confirmed COVID-19 positive case, as well as working closely with our physician partners and the State Health Department.

Our top priority remains the safety of staff, residents, and visitors. This includes making sure all of our employees and staff throughout the facility understand how to protect themselves and the residents in their care.

We are dedicated to providing quality care for our residents. We will continue to fight to keep our residents and staff safe.”

Hawaii Island recorded one week of double-digit increases. The Big Island now has 179 active cases and has been actively testing across the island.

“We’ve seen our numbers around the 5% range, which it used to be .01%, and it worked up,” explained Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO at Hilo Medical Center, regarding percent positive test results.

The majority of COVID positive cases are in the Hilo area.

The staff member who tested positive for the virus at the Veterans Home was identified during random testing last week.

“We had a positive staff member that we found at that time, just doing the random testing. So that’s what it all started,” explained Doug Taylor, administrator at Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home.

Since the positive case was discovered, the facility said they’ve been doing testing every two to three days.

The state-owned facility works in conjunction with Hilo Medical Center where three Yukio Okutsu residents are currently hospitalized.

Brinkman said the nursing homes in East Hawaii have been rigorous in prevention protocols.

“Because our staff live in the community, and they interact, they’re not in a protected bubble,” Brinkman explained. “And what happened is we have an employee who contracted community base COVID, and they come to work, they don’t know they’re symptomatic, or that they have it. And by the time we catch them with random testing, they’ve already worked a couple of shifts and away it goes.”

The facility’s administrator said all employees are temperature checked and fill out a health questionnaire daily. They will continue with another round of testing throughout the week.

For now, Brinkman said Hilo Hospital is about 82% full and there is enough PPE, but staffing is an issue statewide.

“We’re doing okay right now,” he said. “Knock on wood, we’re holding stable and I’m cautiously hopeful we’ll start seeing a gradual reversal in the climb the other way, because I think people out there scared.”

Mayor Harry Kim said he doesn’t think a shut down is necessary at this time and they’ll be working with Premier Medical Group for another week of testing.

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