The family of a decorated Vietnam veteran who was infected with COVID-19 and died at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home has sued Utah-based Avalon Health Care, which manages the home.

A total of 27 veterans and their spouses who lived at the home have died after becoming infected with the coronavirus.

The lawsuit against Avalon and four of its affiliated companies was filed on behalf of the sons of Chris Drayer, and alleges “Drayer died due to Avalon’s substandard care and non-existent health safety practices.”

An American flag is flown at half mast fronting the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Chris Drayer did not deserve to die at Yukio. He died because Avalon failed to keep him safe,” said Kona lawyer Jeffrey Foster, who filed the lawsuit.

“It is beyond belief that nearly six months after the onset of the worst pandemic in 100 years, a facility caring for the most vulnerable members of our community could fail to practice the most basic of protections for its residents,” he said. “What the Avalon companies have done at Yukio represents a systemic failure to institute and follow established policies, practices and procedures that care facilities around the country have utilized to protect vulnerable residents.”

Avalon has said it followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the state health department during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has, unfortunately, hit the nation’s nursing homes the hardest as we care for the most vulnerable among us in a communal setting, which is supposed to be homelike and where residents retain rights and dignity,” the company says on its website.

A total of 71 residents and 35 employees at Okutsu have tested positive in the outbreak, and a “tiger team” of experts that was mobilized by the Department of Veterans Affairs has intervened at the home to try to stem the spread of the disease.

“Federal and state investigators found ‘very little evidence of proactive preparation/planning for COVID’ by Avalon and numerous errors and omissions at Yukio that caused the virus to spread unabated among the vulnerable residents,” Foster wrote in his statement.

He said the families of the veterans have questions about what happened, and “we will exhaust every resource to deliver the answers and justice sought by our clients.”

Drayer served two tours in Vietnam, and was a recipient of the Bronze Star awarded for heroic and meritorious deeds performed in an armed conflict.

Avalon Health Care and the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. announced last week they have agreed to transfer management of the veterans home to East Hawaii HHSC, which is the public authority that operates the Hilo Medical Center.

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