Team from the state to review COVID response at veterans home in Hilo

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Premier Medical Group tests people for COVID-19 on Tuesday in the parking lot across from Macy’s at Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald A case of COVID-19 was reported Tuesday at the Life Care Center of Hilo.

  • KIM

A state team will be assembled today to conduct a review of the COVID-19 outbreak response at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, and the virus was reported in two more Big Island long-term care facilities.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said the county has been requesting a review of the situation and confirmed Tuesday it would take place.


The situation at the veterans home “is just not acceptable,” he said.

A total of 59 Yukio Okutsu residents and 20 staff members have now tested positive for COVID-19 in the two weeks since two employees initially tested positive in late August.

Three residents are currently hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center, according to an update from the hospital Tuesday, and 33 residents are being cared for in a COVID-designated area at the veterans home.

One employee and 14 residents have recovered, while an additional death at the veterans home related to COVID-19 has been reported, bringing the death toll to nine.

Allison Griffiths, a spokeswoman for Avalon Health Care Group, which manages the facility, said a team from the state, which includes an infectious disease physician and other officials, will be at the facility this week “to provide an on-site assessment and formulate recommendations for interventions and processes to help assist and support in the outbreak.”

“We are in full support of it and will be very cooperative, and (we) welcome the assessment and any recommendation and assistance the physician and his team could provide,” Griffiths said.

“Without a review, we would not know where to go,” Kim said. A “professional, objective review of the whole operation must be done to ensure what we are doing is the right thing, not only for this program, but for all programs.”

Cases also were reported Tuesday at two more Hilo facilities.

An employee of Life Care Center of Hilo tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Sept. 6 and an employee at Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 31.

Both facilities are operated by Life Care Centers of America.

In a statement provided Tuesday, Life Care Center of Hilo Executive Director Mark Mann said all 210 associates were tested for COVID-19 and every resident was being tested Tuesday.

The results of those tests are currently pending and no residents are currently exhibiting symptoms.

In a follow-up email, Mann said about 150 staff results had so far come back negative.

According to a Sept. 3 update from Hale Anuenue, the employee there had not been in the building since Aug. 27.

In an update to the website Tuesday, Executive Director Gail Kahookele said testing for all employees and contractors was completed Friday.

While all associates were free of the virus, one contractor, who had two negative tests in the past 30 days when he arrived in Hawaii, received a positive result. The contractor has been quarantined since Saturday and has no symptoms.

While the first COVID-positive associate did not work with patients, the contractor did, and Kahookele said in a phone conversation that the facility has taken all required measures.

Testing for residents was completed Sunday. As of Tuesday, all results were so far negative.

No infections have been reported at Hilo Medical Center’s Extended Care Facility or in long-term care facilities at Ka‘u Hospital and Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua in Honokaa, all which are part of the East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

Because of Hawaii County’s current COVID-19 positivity rate of 4.1%, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires long-term care facilities to test all staff for COVID-19.

That testing begins this week at the three HHSC facilities.


If the community positivity rate is below 5%, staff must be tested monthly, but if the community rate exceeds 5%, staff must be tested weekly, according to HMC.

Email Stephanie Salmons at

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