VA medical team visits Hilo veterans home suffering from outbreak of COVID-19


HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs team arrived at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Their job is to help contain the outbreak the home has been dealing with since late August.

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A team of at least five healthcare professionals, infection control experts and nurses toured the home Friday afternoon, Sept. 11.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Nurse Executive Dorene Sommers is heading the team.

“We are here in Hawaii to support the VA Fourth mission. We’re here to support the people of Hawaii and especially to ensure our veterans are getting the care that they need and they deserve,” Sommers said.

Their purpose for visiting the veteran’s home was to assess the site for any infection control issues and make recommendations on how to address the outbreak within the facility.

Sommers is heading a group of more than 21 nurses and health administrators sent to Hawaii to assist not only the veterans home, but to provide help to front line staff in hospitals throughout Hawaii that have been dealing with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

In a statement U.S. Senator Brian Schatz said:

“The medical team will be a big help in containing the outbreak happening on the Big Island. My staff and I will continue working with the VA and state and local officials to make sure we are utilizing all the federal help that’s available.”

Ten residents have died at the veterans home and at least 66 residents tested positive since the outbreak started there in late August. Four residents are being cared for at Hilo Medical Center, 35 others are at the veterans home in a dedicated COVID-19 unit. Seventeen of the residents who tested positive has since recovered. Twenty-seven staff members also tested positive.

Allison Griffiths, the spokesperson for Avalon Healthcare Group, said they are happy to collaborate with and appreciate the assistance from the VA.

“We are cooperating with the visit. They’re touring the facility. They’re reviewing the practices, reviewing the infection control protocols that are in place. I coin it a review and investigation,” explained Griffiths.

Arnold Nobriga, the son of one of the residents that tested positive for COVID-19 at the home, said it’s about time the government stepped in to help. Nobriga said he hopes to see some changes in how things are handled.

“What I hope happens is they hurry up and clean up the place and take care the people. What I want to see is the people that’s negative right now, take them out of the facility so they won’t be in harms way,” Nobriga said.

The VA medical team met with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim briefly at the facility. The team will remain in Honolulu for several more weeks.

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