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Lawmakers demand answers on COVID-19 outbreak in LaSalle Veterans’ Home

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – State lawmakers want the Pritzker administration to be held accountable for the COVID-19 outbreak at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in LaSalle. More than 200 people in the home have contracted the coronavirus and 28 veterans have died.

According to state officials, infected staff worked with veterans and the facility lacked proper sanitizer to kill off COVID-19. The first resident tested positive on November 1, but the Illinois Department of Public Health didn’t visit the facility until November 12. Now, state and federal lawmakers want to know how this happened.

While the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee heard from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs last week, House Republicans want a hearing for their chamber as well. The Pritzker administration called for a full investigation into the cause of the outbreak. However, IDVA Director Linda Chapa LaVia said that could take four to six months to complete.

Rep. Randy Frese (R-Quincy) says families deserve answers just as they did with the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Quincy Veterans’ Home several years ago.

“We have a responsibility to provide oversight, to call witnesses, and to get to the bottom of what exactly happened. What has caused the sickness and death of veterans living under the care of the Pritzker administration,” Frese asked.

Others feel Democrats haven’t shown a sense of urgency as they did with the Rauner administration during the Legionnaires’ outbreak.

“Of those 28 lives that were lost, did we attempt as a state to do everything that we possibly could to save them? Did we offer them emergency use therapies as a resort to help save lives,” asked Rep. David Welter (R-Morris).

House VA Committee can’t meet

For now, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee can’t meet because the chamber didn’t approve a proposal to allow virtual hearings. Committee Chair Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora) stressed Republicans fought to block the bill allowing remote meetings during May’s special session.

“While it seems the Republicans are not concerned with the rising COVID cases statewide, I am concerned and will not put the health and safety of staff, members, or participants at risk by calling an in-person meeting,” Kifowit said Monday.

She recently asked the Senate to allow members of the House Committee to participate in their virtual hearings. Kifowit also asked if Representatives could submit questions for their colleagues to ask on their behalf.

“Who knew what and when? Why were protocols unclear to staff,” asked Rep. Dan Swanson (R-Alpha). “Why did some employees report to work after reporting symptoms to their supervisor? 28 veterans who served our country honorably have died due to the COVID outbreak at LaSalle.”

Demanding transparency

Meanwhile, Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) and Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) sent a letter Monday morning asking for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to continue their hearings. They also asked Committee Chair Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) to have Chapa LaVia and IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike testify at the next hearing.

“We hope you’ll agree and set the next hearing date soon, so we can continue to seek answers in an open, transparent setting on behalf of the residents and employees of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home,” wrote Rezin and Schimpf. Rezin wasn’t allowed to participate in last week’s hearing, even though she represents the veterans’ home.

“Just as I know some of these families impacted, she does as well,” Welter explained. “With her leadership, the proximity of her district that this home is in, I think Sen. Rezin could have provided some good input, asked some good questions, and hopefully taken away some good answers that she could help share with the community.”

Kinzinger puts Pritzker administration on blast

Congressman Adam Kinzinger feels Illinoisans deserve action and answers on the deadly outbreak.

“Why doesn’t the Pritzker Administration have a team on the ground now? What is the Governor going to do today to help my constituents at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home and their families,” Kinzinger asked. “How did the Pritzker Administration fail so egregiously to ensure our facilities were following the rules strictly so as to avoid the outcomes we saw in New York City and Seattle? The failures here are entirely unacceptable. And without question, our most vulnerable population deserves better than this.”

The governor addressed the issue during his COVID-19 briefing Monday afternoon. Pritzker wants every aspect of the outbreak examined.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s unacceptable when we see rampant infection somewhere,” Pritzker said. “If there’s any failure of procedure or wrongdoing, then that should be brought to the forefront and people should be held accountable.”

The governor noted long-term care facility staff should follow certain protocols whenever they’re outside of the facilities. However, several employees from the LaSalle home reportedly gathered at a Halloween party before they tested positive for COVID-19.

The Illinois Republican Party quickly pointed out Pritzker was critical of Rauner’s response to the Quincy outbreak in 2015.

“One would think Governor Pritzker would have a greater sense of urgency to address an outbreak of a deadly disease in a state-run veteran’s home given that such a scenario was a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign in attacking the record of his predecessor,” stated Illinois GOP Spokesman Joe Hackler.

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Mike Miletich

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