(BIVN) – As the impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak at Hilo’s Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home worsen, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaiʻi) is calling for federal intervention.
On Sunday, Hilo Medical Center reported another death has occurred at the veterans home, bringing the total number of residents who died with COVID-19 to seven (7).
Yesterday, Hilo Medical Center corrected the number of COVID-19 related deaths at the home, dropping the number to five (5). But today, that number was again adjusted. Here is the explanation from Avalon Healthcare, the managing company running the veterans home operations, which was posted to its website on Sunday:
We are deeply saddened to report that seven of our beloved Veterans who tested positive for COVID-19 have passed away. We are heartbroken over this and express our condolences to the family and friends of these residents. Please note that yesterday, we reported that six COVID-19 positive Veterans passed away. While one additional resident did unfortunately pass away since the previous day, the resident was not COVID-19 positive at the time of his death. Rather, his PCR test was pending at the time of his death, and upon transfer to the hospital, a rapid/antigen test came back positive. A day later, the PCR test returned negative, which means the resident was not positive for COVID-19 at the time of his death. The CDC considers the PCR test to be more accurate and definitive than the rapid antigen test.
Avalon Healthcare reports a total of 55 residents and 18 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Hilo Medical Center confirms three (3) residents are currently hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center, part of the 14 individuals with COVID-19 that are currently at the hospital. Five (5) Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home residents have recovered, and 40 total residents are currently cared for at the veterans home’s COVID designated area.
“We need to contain this outbreak immediately, and we need federal help,” said Senator Schatz. “I’m calling on the VA to immediately step in and deploy infection control experts and other health care professionals to the Big Island to get this under control. This is a public health emergency, and we need all the help we can get to stop this outbreak and save lives.”
Sen. Schatz raised his concerns in a pair of letters to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie and Governor David Ige. “It is increasingly clear to me that the state home is understaffed and ill equipped to stop this outbreak on its own,” wrote Sen. Schatz. “Moreover, I am concerned that the state and county have been too slow to respond to the crisis with the urgency that it demands, including with a request for more federal assistance.”
Sen. Schatz, who called the veterans home coronavirus cluster “heartbreaking”, wrote in his letter to Secretary Wilkie:
It is clear that we are in a race against time and must commit as many resources as possible stop the spread of this virus before more veterans and staff become sick and die. While I appreciate the support that the VA Pacific Island Health Care System in Honolulu has provided, including with the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE), VA can and must do more to reduce the risk to and suffering of the veterans and caregivers in the state home.
As the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, VA is specifically well positioned to provide expertise to the facility to ensure it is following infection control best practices that will help arrest this outbreak. Under Section 20005 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act, P.L. 116-136), Congress authorized VA “to provide to State homes medicines, personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and any other equipment, supplies, and assistance available to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
I urge VA to use the CARES Act authority to immediately deploy infection control experts and other healthcare professionals to the Yukio Okutsu Veterans State Home. VA’s experts should work with the facility to provide technical assistance to ensure it is following best practices for droplet precautions, isolation protocols for both residents and staff, and use of PPE; providing adequate staff capacity to serve the facility’s veterans during this outbreak; and other measures that will protect the standard of care for veterans and those caregivers working in the state home.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request for assistance to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the Yukio Okutsu Veterans State Home. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about this request.