Hawaii to take over veterans home where 26 died

HONOLULU, Hawaii — A state-owned health care organization in Hawaii will take over a veterans care home where 26 residents have died of the coronavirus.

The arrangement announced on Friday will see Hawaii Health Systems Corporation take over as the operators of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo. The previous operator, Utah-based Avalon Health Care, will relinquish all control over the facility.

This comes after Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim called for the immediate suspension of the home’s administration on Wednesday, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Department of Veterans Affairs and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reports found fault with the home’s procedures and preparations.

“There was very little evidence of proactive preparation/planning for COVID,” the VA’s report stated. “A basic understanding of segregation and work flow seemed to be lacking even approximately three weeks after the first positive case.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser also reports that the veterans home has had a history of falling short on health standards. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave the home a health inspection rating of one star out of five.

“We are humbled and privileged to be entrusted with caring for our veterans,” said Dan Brinkman, CEO of the East Hawaii Region of HHSC in a news release. “Over the next several months, we will be collaborating with the Avalon team to safely and effectively complete the transition.”

There were 89 residents living at the care home before the outbreak. Since then, 71 residents have contracted the virus along with 35 employees.

Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths told news site Big Island Now that, “Throughout the pandemic, Avalon has diligently sought to implement the guidelines of the Hawai`i State Department of Health, the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Avalon has been and continues to be deeply committed to the welfare of all of our residents and will work with HHSC to transition the facility to its leadership.”

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