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Avalon Health Group Ousted From Hilo State Veterans Home

Big Island Video News

The management of the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home where 26 veterans have died from COVID-19 is being replaced. Avalon Health Care Group will step aside and the East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. will take over.

That word comes today from the Hilo Medical Center, which has been caring for the veterans home residents who contracted the virus during an outbreak that has lasted several weeks, with nearly every day bringing news of more fatalities and infections.

The rising toll at the nursing hone drew the attention of U.S. Brian Schatz, who earlier this month asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to bring in a team and investigate the facility. 

The East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. (HHSC), a state entity that oversees state public hospitals, will now take over running of veterans facility from the Avalon Health Care Group.

HHSC had contracted with Avalon to run the veterans home since it opened in 2007.

Avalon has come under mounting criticism after both the VA and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reported serious lapses in infection control and patient management at the veterans home that appeared to have contributed to the expanding outbreak.

In a news release, HHSC said despite "many years of successful operations, the recent, unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19 in the facility has caused a reassessment by the East Hawai`i Regional Board responsible for the [Avalon] management contract."

HHSC and Avalon agreed to transition the operations and management of the nursing home, according to the release.

Dan Brinkman, CEO of the East Hawai`i Region of HHSC, said: "Over the next several months, we will be collaborating with the Avalon team to safely and effectively complete the transition.”

While the news release described Avalon's operations as "successful," the facility has been cited and fined over the years for various deficiencies, according to media reports.

Still, the company maintained repeatedly that it had followed government guidance. 

“Throughout the pandemic, Avalon has diligently sought to implement the guidelines of the Hawai`i State Department of Health, the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services," Avaon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths said in a statement. "Avalon has been and continues to be deeply committed to the welfare of all of our residents and will work with HHSC to transition the facility to its leadership.” 

Schatz issued a statement saying the recent government reports showed Avalon is "ill-equipped to operate the veterans home and contain this outbreak. Avalon has also been unwilling to take responsibility for their mismanagement so this was the right decision."

He added: “What happens next will be critical. The transition plan to a new management team must put the health and safety of patients and staff first. HHSC must also ensure that a change in management does not adversely impact staffing and census in other facilities and that all residents of nursing facilities on Hawai‘i Island receive care in the most appropriate setting."

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