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New Management at Hilo Veterans Home to Take Over January 1

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Big Island Video News
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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home

Events are being held across the country today in honor of those who have served in the U.S. military. Veterans Day celebrations in Hilo will be especially meaningful in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that claimed the lives of 27 residents at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. 

Mike “Da Bull” Tomita was a retired Honolulu firefighter and received the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. Reverend Richard Uejo devoted his life to the Baptist Church after serving in World War II. These are just some of the names of veterans who died of COVID-19 at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. 

Johnny Hiduchick-Nakayama, chaplain for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3830, says Veterans Day is a reminder of those who served.

"It really means that those names will never be forgotten, that their service to our country will never be forgotten," says Hiduchick-Nakayama.

He's helping to organize a Veterans Day ceremony at the home, including a motorcycle drive-by salute to honor the remaining veterans and staff at the nursing home.  A virtual event will be streamed on the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home Facebook page beginning at 12:30 p.m., followed by the drive-by salute hosted by the Aloha Hoah?nau Motorcycle Club.

"We?ve overcome and we?ve fought the fight for our veterans as they have done for us while serving in the military," says Stacy Sakuma, who has been working at the facility for nearly nine years. 

Sakuma is the facility's recreation director and she's helping Hiduchick-Nakayama in planning the day’s festivities.

"With our veterans here now, it's like the fight is over and we?ll continue to care for our veterans with the best care that they deserve," said Sakuma.

The outbreak, which began on August 22, infected 35 staff and 71 residents, including the 27 who lost their lives.

The outbreak led to the removal of Avalon Health Care, the Utah-based company that ran the home since it opened in 2007.

The home is transitioning to new management, says Dan Brinkman, East Hawai?i Regional CEO for the Hawai?i Health Systems Corp., the state provider of institutional medical care.

"Our transition is scheduled to officially happen January 1," says Brinkman. "We set up a legal entity called East Hawai?i State Veterans Home, which is part of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., but its own separate nonprofit. And that's how we will manage it."

He says the home won’t be accepting new residents for a couple of months until the management can ensure systems are in place and the team is familiar with COVID-19 policies and procedures.

"I really do think in the long run the service is essential. [That] the building has stayed full for most of its 10 years of existence tells me that there certainly is a demand on the Big Island," says Brinkman. "And we want to be sure that we can meet the needs and, probably also very importantly, that we can regain some of the trust that was lost in this unfortunate incident."

Brinkman and his team are reaching out to veterans from the surrounding community to establish an advisory comittee that'll provide feedback on how they would want the home to operate moving forward. 

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