Hawaii Headlines

Arizona man who died at Pearl Harbor buried near family

PHOENIX (AP) — An 18-year-old U.S. Navy sailor from Arizona who died at Pearl Harbor was buried with full military honors Friday after his remains were identified last year, about 80 years after the Japanese attack.

Carl Johnson, a U.S. Navy seaman 1st Class and a Purple Heart recipient, was aboard the USS West Virginia near Hawaii when multiple torpedoes hit the side of the battleship to which he was assigned in 1941. About 100 crewman on the vessel died.

Johnson was buried at Greenwood Memory Lawn cemetery in Phoenix with a 21-gun salute and the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag to the family.

“It was always my grandparent’s hopes, and their siblings . . . that Carl would be eventually found and returned to them — today that prayer has been answered,” Johnson’s nephew Carl Dahl said.

At least four generations of his relatives gathered for the funeral. The Patriot Guard Riders, Navy and Air Force personnel, and a Pearl Harbor survivor were also at Johnson’s burial.

“To see finally after nearly 80 years that we were able to identify the remains and he was able to come home and be buried next to his parents, next to my grandparents, his sister, it’s an amazing thing. It’s a miracle,” Dahl’s son Bob Dahl said.

Hawaii Headlines

Nareit Hawaii awards $300K in housing grants

HONOLULU (AP) — A national organization for real estate investment trusts has awarded $300,000 in grants to two Hawaii organizations: Honolulu Habitat for Humanity and Hale O Hawaii.

Nareit, which administers the Nareit Hawaii Community Giving Initiative, granted $120,000 on Friday to Honolulu Habitat for Humanity that will help build six affordable single-family homes, including five in Waimanalo and one in Papakolea, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The homes, which will range in size from two bedrooms and one bathroom to six bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, are expected to house 25 residents, including two veteran families, eight residents over the age of 62 and three residents under 16, officials said.

Construction is scheduled to be completed within a year.

Nareit previously gave Hale O Hawaii a $195,000 grant to buy an acre of land to build an affordable home in Puna for a family who was displaced by the 2018 Kilauea Volcano eruption, officials said.

The new home is expected to be least 1,175 square feet (110 square meters) with two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms and a covered carport. The grant also allows Hale O Hawaii to buy property in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year.

Nareit, a member of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, owns more than $11 billion in real estate in the state, according to its website.

Hawaii Headlines

Hospital to update policies after 2 virus clusters

Queen’s Medical Center outbreak last week included 27 caregivers and 12 patients

HONOLULU (AP) — A Honolulu hospital plans to update its policies after being struck by coronavirus clusters in two areas of the facility.

The Queen’s Medical Center said Tuesday there was a COVID-19 outbreak in two clusters, after initially reporting Jan. 6 there was a single cluster, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The hospital said outbreaks happened in a cardiac unit on the third and sixth floors of Queen Emma Tower and that a second cluster was discovered on the fourth floor of Pauahi Tower.

The hospital reported an initial cluster of 27 caregivers and 12 patients. Since then, 11 additional patients have tested positive. People who tested positive are quarantined and receiving care, the hospital said.

Relatives of a 75-year-old patient who tested positive after discharge said they were not informed that she was treated on one of the affected floors.

The Queen’s Health Systems said changes are being made.

“In hindsight, we recognize that there was a gap in our processes that resulted in communication that was not at the level we hold ourselves accountable for and that our patients deserve,” the hospital system said in a statement.

Dr. Whitney Limm, Queen’s chief physicians officer, said patients with negative test results were not previously told they were in units with patients who tested positive for the virus. That policy is among “the gaps we are closing,” Limm said.

“If someone tests negative, the hospital staff now does follow-up checks after a patient is discharged,” Limm said.

The hospital said teams have completed broad surveillance of in-patients, increased contact tracing for all affected patients and that staff and reinforced safety protocols, including personal protective equipment usage and cleaning.

Dr. Julius Pham, chairman of the hospital’s COVID-19 committee, said the challenge of virus notification occurs during patient discharges.

“We frankly didn’t have the bandwidth to get to all our visitors,” Pham said. “Moving forward, we’re ramping up with family members and visitors. They deserve to be notified.”

The medical center has tracked discharged patients and will notify patients discharged from units with virus clusters, Pham said.

“We need to do it faster and better,” Pham said. ”I don’t think our intent is to hide it from anybody.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Hawaii Headlines

Hawaii island mayor remains in hospital after heart attack

KAILUA-KONA (AP) — Hawaii island’s mayor is still hospitalized after suffering a heart attack and undergoing a procedure to implant a stent.

Mayor Mitch Roth was being treated in Hilo Medical Center after experiencing chest pain Saturday evening, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

The former Hawaii County prosecutor, who ran as an independent candidate and began his first term in office in December, was under evaluation by medical staff Monday.

“He’s still in the hospital, but he’s recovering and he’s in great spirits,” spokesman Cyrus Johnasen said.

Roth, 56, is not infected with the coronavirus, Johnasen said.

“My wife Noriko and I are humbled by the outpouring of support and aloha we have received from our island community,” Roth said in a statement, expressing gratitude to the hospital staff who have shown him “excellent care.”

“I am confident that I will be back to full health very soon,” Roth added. “In the meantime, I know my team will continue to work tirelessly to serve our community in my stead.”

Hawaii County Managing Director Lee Lord is serving as the Big Island’s acting mayor during Roth’s recovery.

Hawaii County Council Chairwoman Maile David said she sent Roth a text after learning of his condition Sunday and was “sincerely touched” when Roth replied to thank her.

“I told him that I know he was extremely busy these past few weeks trying to hit the ground running,” David said, “but that right now the most important thing is his health and that he needs to take as much time as necessary to get well completely so he can continue his good work.”

Democratic Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he spoke Sunday with Roth, “who is going through a little bit of a health challenge right now.”

“He and his team are on top of things and he’s just a great human being,” Green said. “He’ll be OK.”

Hawaii Headlines

State plans mass COVID vaccination centers on Oahu

HONOLULU (AP) — Thousands of Oahu residents are expected to have access to COVID-19 vaccines when the state opens mass vaccination centers there, officials said.

The state plans to begin providing vaccinations beginning Monday at Honolulu’s Pier 2 in partnership with Hawaii Pacific Health, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Hawaii Pacific Health is the parent of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Straub Medical Center, Pali Momi Medical Center and Wilcox Medical Center on Kauai.

Ray Vara, the CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, told a news conference Wednesday his organization aims to start off by vaccinating 1,000 people per day and then ramp up to 3,000 to 4,000 daily.

The Queen’s Medical Center announced plans to operate a second large-scale vaccination clinic in the final week of January at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu. Queen’s Health Systems CEO Dr. Jill Hoggard Green said they aim to vaccinate a similar number.

Health officials hope to administer up to 100,000 vaccine shots this month and up to 150,000 doses monthly in February, March, April and May, Democratic Lt. Gov. Josh Green said.

Currently, vaccinations are being offered to people over the age of 75 and front-line essential workers like corrections officers, teachers and postal workers. Vara said people may schedule an appointment online and that 1,000 people have already signed up.

There were 26,000 vaccine doses administered in Hawaii in December. As of Monday, nearly 39,000 residents had been vaccinated and 109,250 doses were delivered by drug makers Pfizer and Moderna. The Hawaii Department of Health said tens of thousands of additional vaccine doses are expected to ship this week.

Queen’s Medical Center President Jason Chang said online registration for the planned centers should make the process fast and efficient.

“Ideally, you’d like to get through more people, but we want to be safe and cautious to start,” Chang said.

The health department reported 106 new coronavirus cases as of 11:59 p.m. Monday, bringing Hawaii’s total since the start of the pandemic to 23,733 cases.

Last Thursday, the state set a record for the new year with 322 newly confirmed cases. The figure was the highest since August, when infections spiked to 355.

The new surge is attributed primarily to holiday gatherings, Green said.

“This is still the remnant of the surge from New Year’s,” Green said. “Almost all have been from those social gatherings.”

Cases appear to be decreasing, Green said.

“I do believe it’s beginning to come down,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going back to Tier 1 as long as we keep a lid on social gatherings.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Hawaii Headlines

Kauai resort to lay off over 450 employees

LIHUE (AP) — The Marriott Beach Club on Kauai laid off more than 450 employees across departments within the hotel, which is undergoing a change in ownership.

The layoffs include housekeepers, banquet servers, laundry attendants and pool servers, The Garden Island reported last week.

“Business levels have been profoundly affected by the pandemic and continue to determine operational and staffing adjustments,” resort spokesperson Lucy Slosser said.

The resort closed from April to October because of the coronavirus pandemic, temporarily furloughing employees and reducing work hours.

Essex House Condominium Corporation, operating as the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club, is expected to cease operations in March.

In a Dec. 31 letter to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, hotel General Manager Paul Toner said Massachusetts-based Sonesta Beach Resort LP will take over as the resort’s new operator.

Art Gillespie, president of the Kauai Beach Club Owners Association and the Association of Apartment Owner, said in a letter that Sonesta will manage the hotel as a Royal Sonesta property.

Services Properties Trust, owner of the 232-room hotel, terminated its agreement in October with Marriott International for 122 hotels in more than 30 states after Marriott could not meet its payments.

Hawaii Headlines

New management takes over Hilo vets home struck by virus

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii island veterans home that suffered a coronavirus outbreak resulting in several patient deaths is under new management.

The Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo will be operated by the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation under the management of Administrator Kau‘i Chartrand, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

An August COVID-19 outbreak at Yukio Okutsu infected 35 staff and 71 residents, including 27 who died.

The state-owned health care organization took over the home in an agreement resulting in Utah-based Avalon Health Care relinquishing control of the facility, which the company had run since it opened in 2007.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave the home a health inspection rating of one star out of five.

The veterans home committed multiple health violations between 2018 and 2019 and had been fined twice since 2018, paying almost $21,000 in 2018 and about $9,000 in 2019.

Yukio Okutsu State currently serves 43 residents, about half of its capacity. The home has placed a moratorium on new residents until the leadership transition is complete, Chartrand said.

Compliance and transparency remain top management priorities, but the focus will be on helping staff, residents and families recover, Chartrand said.

“So that when we move forward, we move forward together in developing or identifying systems that might need some adjustments,” Chartrand said. “But just to make sure that overall our operations are safe here for our veterans and for our community.”

Chartrand’s administrator role is part of a regional, long-term care system created by Hawaii Health Systems Corporation in the wake of the Yukio Okutsu outbreak.

An updated management structure is expected to provide oversight for all of the corporation’s long-term care facilities including Yukio Okutsu, Hilo Medical Center’s Extended Care Facility, Hale Hoola Hamakua, and Kau Hospital.

“We have systems in place to make sure that there is a consistent standard of care throughout our East Hawaii region,” said Elena Cabatu, the East Hawaii director of public affairs.

Hawaii Headlines

Nurses at Oahu medical center vote to strike

HONOLULU (AP) — Nurses in Hawaii have voted to authorize a strike over concerns that management practices have endangered staff and patients at an Oahu hospital.

Many of the nurses said the hospital’s protocols put staff and patients at unnecessary risk for exposure to COVID-19.

Hawaii Nurses’ Association said an unprecedented 96 percent of its membership voted, with 93 percent approving the strike at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

“The nurses have spoken,” Hawaii Nurses’ Association President Daniel Ross said. “It is very clear they feel the hospital has left them no choice but to take this action to protest Kapiolani management’s disregard for our concerns and the hospital’s continued unfair labor practices.”

The hospital’s management has been in negotiations for weeks with representatives of about 725 employees.

The deadline for a strike vote was midnight Saturday. A date for the beginning of the strike has not been announced.

The contract demands put forth by the nurses seek safe conditions for staff and patients, Ross said.

“Having to reuse N95 masks and caring for both COVID and non-COVID patients during the same shift has begun to erode morale and adversely impact the emotional health and well-being of the nurses,” Ross said.

Martha Smith, the medical center CEO and executive vice president of Oahu Operations for Hawaii Pacific Health, said in a Jan. 5 statement that the hospital agreed to reduce the number of times N95 masks are sanitized and reissued to three, despite current practices that follow guidance from the manufacturer and the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The medical center also made a settlement offer with 5 percent wage increases over a three-year contract, in addition to paid time-off enhancements and the continued payment of 100 percent of healthcare costs for nurses with single coverage, among other benefits, Smith said.

Smith expressed disappointment the nurses’ association “would not present our offer to the nurses and our nurses were not given the opportunity to formally review or vote on this offer.”

Smith’s statement, which preceded the strike vote, said hospital representatives planned to meet again with the association and a federal mediator Jan. 13.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Hawaii Headlines

Businesses bracing for unemployment tax increases on horizon

HONOLULU (AP) — Businesses in Hawaii are anticipating a possible tripling of unemployment taxes that could slow the recovery of the economy that has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations must notify employers of the state unemployment tax rate no later than March 15, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

The applicable tax rate takes effect this month, with the payments due by the end of April.

Individual tax contributions by employers are calculated according to unemployment insurance fund utilization. Businesses that made cuts to their workforce or reduced employee hours face higher unemployment taxes.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii anticipates Hawaii’s yearly unemployment tax on businesses is set to automatically triple in 2021 to an average of 3.65 percent, or $1,757 per employee, up from 1.11 percent, or $534 per employee.

Labor and industrial relations department spokesman Bill Kunstman said it is “unlikely that the average employer’s unemployment tax rate would go to the max, as the average employer has sufficient reserves to prevent that trigger.”

State unemployment tax rates for employers are determined by a schedule, which is currently at Schedule C level. Fund depletion could move the rate to the highest level of Schedule H.

Joe Kent, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii executive vice president, said Schedule H sets the tax rate between 2.2 percent and 6.6 percent, depending on factors including previous employer contributions.

There are still too many variables to determine the full impact, but Kent said the impact is “going to be worse than we can even calculate.”

Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii President Sherry Menor-McNamara said the organization is working with Democratic state Rep. Sylvia Luke on legislation to mitigate the increase. Luke chairs the House Finance Committee.

The chamber said an increase would impede economic recovery by slowing rehiring and possibly leading to further layoffs.

Jason Higa, CEO of FCH Enterprises Inc., better known as Zippy’s, said the local restaurant chain faces an 18-fold increase in unemployment taxes. The company had to cut its workforce from 2,000 to about 1,500 workers.

The restaurant industry is in a “cash bleed” using up reserves, Higa said.

“Today those that (are open) still have a cash reserve. But how long can you survive before the vaccine can become available? The (state unemployment tax rate) increase just accelerates the remaining days that you are trying to survive,” Higa said.

Hawaii Headlines

Judge sets bail for man accused in US Capitol rioting

Nicholas Ochs was arrested Thursday after he returned home to Honolulu

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — A U.S. judge in Honolulu on Monday ordered a Hawaii resident and neofascist group member accused of participating in the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week to be released on $5,000 bail.

Nicholas Ochs was arrested Thursday after he returned home to Honolulu from Washington. He was charged with illegally entering a restricted building or grounds, a misdemeanor.

Court documents say Ochs posted a photo of himself to his Twitter account on Jan. 6 with the caption ìHello from the Capitol lol.î He later acknowledged to a CNN reporter that he entered the Capitol, the documents said.

Ochs did not enter a plea during Monday’s hearing, which was held via telephone to limit the spread of the coronavirus. His lawyer Myles Breiner did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the charge.

Ochs is the founder of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, a neofascist group. He was the Republican Party’s candidate to represent Waikiki in the state House of Representatives in the November election. Ochs lost to Democrat Adrian Tam after winning nearly 30 percent of the vote.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Wes Reber Porter said Ochs would not be allowed to travel outside Oahu as a condition of his release, except to go to Washington for court hearings.

However, the U.S. court in Washington has said his proceedings would all be conducted by WebEx or Zoom due to the pandemic, so there was no need for him to travel there.