U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) announced on Sept. 11 that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will be sending a team of infection control experts, nurses and other health care professionals to provide support in containing the COVID-19 outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.
“This medical team will be a big help in containing the outbreak happening on the Big Island,” Schatz said. “More help is on the way. My staff and I will continue working with the VA and state and local officials to make sure we are utilizing all the federal help that’s available.”
According to the media release, the details of the VA mission include an onsite assessment of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home for infection control issues and recommendations for “interventions, processes and procedures to address an outbreak of COVID-19.”
In a letter urging for federal intervention, Schatz wrote, “I am concerned that the state and county have been too slow to respond to the crisis with the urgency it demands, including with a request for more federal assistance.”
As of Sept. 13, 66 residents and 28 employees tested positive for COVID-19 while there has been a total of 12 deaths. In a news conference, Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim said care home owner Avalon Healthcare Group and the state are responsible for the outbreak.
According to the company’s contract tracing, it shows that the virus reached the facility through an asymptomatic staffer and a resident who was exposed at a Hilo dialysis center.
“The second we learned, we were doing proactive measures certainly following all the CDC guidance as evidenced by such a long history of negative tests,” an Avalon Healthcare Group spokeswoman said.
Aside from its Hilo nursing home, Avalon’s two other nursing homes in Honolulu, Avalon Care Center and Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, are also struck with rising COVID-19 cases.
In a letter to Avalon Healthcare Group, Schatz calls on the company to “review and improve infection control practices” as COVID-19 continue to persists at its three care homes.
“I urge you to immediately review the practices, and in particular the staffing and infection control practices at your facilities in Hawai`i and in other states to identify and resolve any deficiencies that could results in the spread of COVID-19,” he wrote.
“Residents of nursing homes are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and each Avalon facility needs to be sufficiently prepared to keep its residents and staff safe during the pandemic.”