A new year means new administrators are in place at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home.
On Jan. 1, the governing board and leadership of Hawaii Health Systems Corp.’s East Hawaii Region assumed management of the Hilo veterans home from Avalon Health Care, which had managed the HHSC facility since it opened in 2007.
The management transition was announced in September amid a devastating weeks-long 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.
A regional model has been implemented for the long-term care facilities and critical access hospitals in the HHSC East Hawaii Region, said Denise Mackey, new regional administrator for those facilities.
In her role, Mackey will provide ongoing regional oversight for Yukio Okutsu, Hilo Medical Center’s Extended Care Facility, Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua and Ka‘u Hospital.
Mackey, who also will continue as administrator of Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua in Honokaa, said the model was implemented partly because of the desire to use best practices throughout the region and to implement them “as similarly as possible.”
Faith Olivera has been named regional director of nursing for long-term care and critical access hospitals.
But overseeing day-to-day operations at the veterans home is new administrator Kaui Chartrand and new director of nursing, Valecia Baldwin.
Chartrand said she’s been working in long-term care for about 12 years and has been with HMC for a little more than five.
Her first long-term care job, though, was as a social service assistant at the veterans home.
“I’ve come full circle, and I’ve returned,” Chartrand said. “… I am honored and humbled to serve in this role.”
“While we understand the need to address compliance issues, we also understand the need to focus on the recovery — the recovery for what the staff have gone through, residents and families, and really develop that trust to allow us to move (forward) together and grow together,” she said.
In recent days, Chartrand said administrators have been preparing a COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Vaccinations are set to begin later this week at the veterans home.
Yukio Okutsu administrators also expect another evaluation from the state Department of Health in the future.
“We are anticipating their return, and we have met with our department heads, we have reviewed all the plans of correction so we are aware of what we are required to submit and be completing as far as protocols and processes here,” Chartrand said.
She also has been working with the care home’s activities director to schedule meetings with veterans agencies in the community and resident and family councils.
“ … We want to be as transparent (as possible), and want them to know we want to involve them in our planning and making sure whatever it is they want us to be aware of … that we are going to be addressing that in the future,” she said.
Chartrand, however, said that no disruptions to services are expected because of the management change, and there have been weekly meetings with Avalon over the last three months to ensure a smooth transition.
HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the East Hawaii Region is “completely honored” to take over the management role at Yukio Okutsu — and up to the challenge.
“The structure they’ve put in place is what’s going to bring us to heal and move forward and come together as a facility, a health system and community at large,” she said. “Because this (outbreak) didn’t happen to the facility. It happened to the community. We all need to heal from this.”
Currently, there are 43 residents in the veterans home and 131 staff members.
Mackey said before admissions resume, administrators want to ensure the facility is “operating the way we know it should.”