The East Hawaii Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corp. is preparing to take over the management of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home Jan. 1, 2021.
It was announced in late September that the East Hawaii Region governing board and leadership would assume the management role from Avalon Health Care.
The Hilo veterans home, which is a HHSC facility along with neighboring Hilo Medical Center, has been managed by Avalon since it opened in 2007.
A devastating outbreak of COVID-19 that began in late August — in which 71 residents and 35 employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and 27 residents died — led Mayor Harry Kim last month to call for Avalon’s removal.
“We are honored to have the privilege to take care of our veterans, and we will remedy the situation,” East Hawaii Region CEO Dan Brinkman said last week.
Brinkman said the transfer of management will require hard work from a number of people and substantial collaboration between Avalon and Hilo Medical Center.
“Basically, we’ve been interacting with the leadership of Avalon and their counterparts here at HMC,” he said. “Our CFO (is) talking with their CFO to understand their operations in business and make the appropriate transfer of responsibility and manage the legal aspects of assuming operational management of the facility.
“We’re also spending a lot of time understanding the workforce, spending time getting to know the staff members and employees at the veterans home … and also making plans to integrate that workforce with our East Hawaii family of employees.”
According to Brinkman, the intent is to bring all employees over and assess work needs after the transition, “then over time make the best judgment as to what is needed to provide exceptional care for the veterans.”
The department heads will be retained with other employees as part of the transition, but Brinkman said the new management will bring on a nursing home administrator and director of nursing to manage the staff.
As part of the transition process, the East Hawaii Region is creating a nonprofit entity known as the East Hawaii State Veterans Home, which will employ those working at facility,meaning they won’t be state civil service employees.
That nonprofit, however, will be controlled and governed by the East Hawaii Regional Board and executive team.
Brinkman said taking over management of the veterans home makes finances tenuous.
Nursing homes generally need to be close to fully occupied to support their own costs, he explained.
“Right now, the veterans home is struggling,” Brinkman said. “The goal over the next 18 months is to restore confidence in the veterans home and have that asset be available to our veterans to use here on Hawaii Island.”
According to Brinkman, the veterans home has been able to cover its costs over the past five years and maintained a small margin of profit.
“Our plan is to make it self-supporting, though we suspect it will impact our finances in East Hawaii for a couple of years.”
According to Brinkman, HHSC will ask the state Legislature for a one-time $1 million transitional expenditure to supplement its normal budget request for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Brinkman said, too, that the new management is working with Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veteran representatives to ensure the home is managed in a way that instills confidence and makes veterans feel comfortable with the care that will be provided in the future.
“I think the No. 1 challenge is going to be to restore trust in the facility,” he said. “Nursing homes across the country have struggled with confidence in their services because the COVID pandemic has hit them so hard. … They provide a valuable service if needed, but restoring confidence both with the long-term care nursing home idea, as well as restoring confidence in the specific facility is a huge task for us. … We need to make sure we re-establish confidence in the home so that asset isn’t wasted and that needed service is available for veterans and their families.”
For the first few months after taking responsibility for the home, Brinkman said new admissions won’t be accepted.
“We want to make sure our processes are in place, want to make sure we have leadership established, have staff well-oriented and have them aligned with the practices we have in the other nursing homes in the East Hawaii Region,” he said.
But for the existing residents, Brinkman said he’s not anticipating any disruption to services. The first priority is to make sure the home is safe and the care they’re getting is “top notch.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.