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Avalon to get the boot: East Hawaii Region of HHSC to take over management of vets home

The East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. will take over operations and management of the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home from Avalon Health Care.

The action, announced Friday, comes as the Hilo veterans home grapples with an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak that began in late August and in which 71 residents and 35 employees have tested positive for the virus, and 26 residents have died.

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

A date for this transition was not given.

“Avalon deeply appreciates the service that our nation’s veterans have provided to our country,” Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths said in the release. “Throughout the pandemic, Avalon has diligently sought to implement the guidelines for the Hawaii 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,” she continued.

In a letter to Ige on Monday, Mayor Harry Kim called for the removal of Avalon as manager of the facility. On Wednesday, Kim said he recommended that management be “placed in the hands of Hilo Medical Center.”

Both Yukio Okutsu and HMC are HHSC East Hawaii Region facilities.

Kim said he received word of the management change from Gov. David Ige Friday afternoon.

He was “very glad for that information, to have the local people involved and make it a local type of (care home).”

A five-year contract signed by Avalon CEO and Chairman Charles Kirton and Brinkman went into effect Dec. 1, 2017, and had the option to be extended for two additional two-year periods.

Avalon has managed the facility since it opened in 2007.

According to the contract, which was obtained by the Tribune-Herald this week, it can be terminated without cause by either Avalon or HHSC with 60 days prior written notice to the other party.

The contract also can be terminated for breach of contract, provided the breach continues for 15 days after receipt of a written notice of said breach from the other party.

HHSC agreed to pay Avalon no more than $5 million for services provided, according to the contract.

Critical reports stemming from recent assessments at the veterans home have identified a number of factors that might have aided in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the facility.

Assessments were conducted separately by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Health Office of Health Care Assurance. The VA and HI-EMA reports were released earlier this week.

“The recent reports have shown that Avalon is ill-equipped to operate the veterans home and contain this outbreak,” U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in a statement. “Avalon has also been unwilling to take responsibility for their mismanagement so this was the right decision.

“What happens next will be critical,” the Hawaii Democrat continued. “The transition plan to a new management team must put the health and safety of patients and staff first. HHSC must also ensure that a change in management does not adversely impact staffing and census in other facilities and that all residents of nursing facilities on Hawaii Island receive care in the most appropriate setting.

“My staff and I will continue to work with federal, state, and local leaders to improve the management at the veterans home and at long-term care facilities across the state.”

Schatz had previously urged federal intervention to help contain the spread of the virus at the veterans home, which led to the VA assessment.

The VA also has deployed an 18-person multidisciplinary “Tiger Team” to provide educational and operational support to the veterans home, a VA spokesperson said.

VA staff have provided education in putting on and removing personal protective equipment, fit-testing of masks, use of respirator masks, and COVID-19 transmission, infection control and safety.

The team started Sept. 17 and will continue through Oct. 28, the VA said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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