Hawaii Takes Over Veterans Home with 26 Coronavirus Deaths

Residents of the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home in Jennings, La., pose in this photo.
Residents of the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home in Jennings, La., pose in this February 2020 photo after receiving the Louisiana Veterans Honor Medals. The Louisiana Department of Veterans is trying to spread some love and joy to veterans across the state while they remain under quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. Project LOVE, is an initiative to send letters and cards to the more than 600 veterans who live in Louisiana’s five state-run veterans homes including the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home in Jennings. ( Jeff Davis/American Press via AP)

HONOLULU (AP) — 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.

Avalon experienced additional outbreaks in June and August at its Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center facility on Oahu, where 42 residents and 40 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Five residents died of the disease.

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.

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

The veterans home committed multiple health violations between 2018 and 2019, including improperly restraining residents who did not require restraint, failing to adequately supervise residents showering, serving expired food, allowing a resident to fall off a bed and break a hip and incidents where staffers accidentally caused minor injuries.

According to a 2018 CMS inspection, several residents have been found to have left the home without supervision, including one case where a resident on a wheelchair was found 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) away before any staff realized the resident was missing.

The veterans home has been fined twice since 2018 for these violations, paying almost $21,000 in 2018 and about $9,000 in 2019.

The state reported 112 new confirmed cases on Friday, according to the state Department of Health. There have been 127 deaths from the coronavirus in Hawaii since the pandemic began.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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