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Team from Veterans Affairs set to arrive today; Another COVID-19 death reported at Hilo vets home

With 15 COVID-19 deaths now associated with Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, a team from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will review “almost everything” about the facility’s management of the outbreak.

Hilo Medical Center reported one additional death of a veterans home resident Wednesday, while the number of new COVID-19 cases remained steady at 68 among residents and 30 among employees.

There were 86 residents living in the home before the outbreak.

Mayor Harry Kim said that a “tiger team” from the VA will arrive on the Big Island today and Friday to review the policies and practices of the veterans home and implement all recommended changes.

Kim said those recommendations will include better staff training, the implementation of additional hygiene controls, and reviews of a slew of health practices, both quarantine-related and otherwise.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said during a Wednesday press conference that the team of about 20 will include “nurses specialized in infection control, employee health … and then other specialties, for example, safety and industrial hygiene, housekeeping and logistics.”

The team will be lead by Dorene Sommers, VA associate director of patient care services, and “will be here until the job is done,” Kim said.

Kim and state officials called the situation a tragedy Wednesday, because nearly 20% of the veterans home’s residents are now dead from COVID-19 infections.

“The heartbreak there is monumental, of course,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “And this is, sadly, what we’ve seen all across the country. When institutions of any kind have outbreaks, they spread rapidly through an institution because of the close proximity of people. We saw that at (Oahu Community Correctional Center) and, of course, we saw it over at the veterans nursing home.

“We see fatalities at a high rate because … they’re very old, (and) almost all of them had very severe underlying conditions,” Green went on. “That is not to make an excuse in any way whatsoever. But it is the reason that it happens.”

Green said that some of those who died had made the choice not to be put on life-support systems such as ventilators “under any circumstance, whether they got sick with pneumonia or COVID, a heart attack or heart challenges.”

“So that’s why you do see a very high mortality rate amongst kupuna,” he said.

Kim said he cannot minimize the tragedy of the Yukio Okutsu situation, but added that, outside of the veterans home, case numbers on the Big Island are decreasing — four were reported Wednesday — to the point that he thinks there will be zero new daily cases again within a month.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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