A veterans home in Hilo that was the site of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak last year will be able to make key improvements to “keep its residents healthy and safe” thanks to $600,000 in new federal funding, Sen. Brian Schatz announced Friday.

The Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, the only state veterans home in Hawaii, will get $428,000 from the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law in March, and more than $173,000 under the COVID-19 relief package approved last year.

The outbreak at the Big Island facility last year left 26 people dead, leading to a lawsuit from the family of a deceased veteran and a federal fine of more than $500,000, which state officials said was the largest fine they were aware of for a longterm care facility.

“Last fall, Yukio Okutsu was understaffed and ill-equipped to stop a deadly COVID outbreak,” Schatz said in a press release. “This new federal funding will help the home upgrade its facilities and ensure its workers remain on the payroll so that it can keep its residents healthy and safe.”

Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home driveway near the main entrance. September 24, 2020
The Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home will receive $600,000 in federal assistance after a deadly COVID-19 outbreak killed 26 people last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The 95-bed facility saw more than 100 residents and employees test positive for COVID-19, with 27 dying, during the outbreak that started Aug. 28.

The bulk of the federal aid will come from grants to support veterans living in long-term care facilities in each state as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

Both Hawaii state officials and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched an investigation into the handling of the outbreak. They released reports deeply critical of Utah-based Avalon Healthcare Management Inc., a private firm that had been running the facility. Avalon agreed to hand over management of the facility to state officials.

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