State senators have decided to indefinitely defer a bill that would have added several new requirements on state veterans homes and nursing homes after dozens testified that the bill mostly asked them to make reforms already in place — and potentially created new problems in the long term.

Keith Ridley, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance, told lawmakers that much of the provisions outlined in Senate Bill 237 “is a duplication of what is already required at both the state and federal level.” 

Ridley noted that a provision requiring a new hotline for complaints might require additional resources for staffing, adding that “this is something we could do without this bill.”

Paige Choy, director of government affairs for the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said that the bill could make measures in place for the pandemic permanent — potentially making health care slower and more burdensome in the long term. 

An American flag flies at half mast at the main entrance of the Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home located on Hawaii island during a COVID-19 pandemic. Scores of veteran residents have died while in care of the veterans home. September 24, 2020
The bill was written in response to outrage over the deaths of 27 veterans during a COVID-19 outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“It might actually put a squeeze on our labor pool, and we do already have a shortage of staff,” said Choy, adding that facilities have had to bring in workers from the mainland. Choy also noted that infections and deaths in nursing homes are already declining across the U.S. as vaccinations become more widely available.

Of 30 health care administrators and medical professionals who submitted written testimony on the bill, only two wrote in support.

The bill was initially written to address concerns after the deadly outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo that killed 27 people last year. An investigation by both state officials and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found serious problems, including that staff allowed patients with dementia to wander the facility and spread the virus.

The state took control of the facility in September from Utah-based Avalon Healthcare, a private company that ran the facility during the outbreak. Soon after, the family of Chris Drayer, a decorated Vietnam veteran who died during the outbreak, filed a lawsuit against Avalon.

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