SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Thirty-six residents of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home died during a massive COVID-19 outbreak this fall. The lawmakers representing the LaSalle facility say the Pritzker administration ignored recommendations received after the Quincy Legionnaires’ outbreak several years ago.
Sen. Sue Rezin and Rep. David Welter stress the Department of Public Health and Department of Veterans Affairs took 12 days before arriving on-site to investigate the COVID-19 outbreak. Two years ago, Auditor General Frank Mautino recommended both departments should ensure a timely response for on-site assistance. He also suggested stronger communication between the departments and implementing CDC recommendations after confirming an outbreak.
Welter (R-Morris) says the Pritzker administration’s mismanagement led to the “deadliest outbreak at a state-run facility in Illinois history.”
Now, he’s demanding the governor own up to the failure.
“The state’s lackluster response prolonged the outbreak at the LaSalle Home and unnecessarily cost the lives of our nation’s heroes. We must continue to demand answers and hold the administration accountable,” Welter said. “We have to.”
Putting the recommendations in place
Senate Bill 2251 could redefine the term “outbreak” to cover two or more people at a veterans’ home contracting an infectious disease within 48 hours of the first case. It would also require the Home Administrator or staff to notify both departments as soon as the outbreak occurs. IDPH and IDVA officials would have to conduct an on-site visit within one business day of the initial outbreak notification. Under the proposal, any findings from the on-site inspection must appear on the IDVA website.
Rezin said she filed the legislation because it’s past time to implement these recommendations.
“It should be a bipartisan bill. But, we have seen slow-walking regarding this issue and it needs to stop. We need to put our veterans as our priority and pass the bills as quick as possible.”
The Morris native explained she would like to pass the bill in conjunction with the Pritzker administration. However, Rezin said they’re willing to force or compel the administration to implement the Auditor General’s recommendations if needed. Rezin noted she’s talked with several veterans’ groups and they’ll watch the General Assembly closely until these proposals pass.
Gov. JB Pritzker called for an independent investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak in late November. The Acting Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services is in charge of that investigation. Pritzker frequently told reporters the state would release results of the investigation once completed. The governor also stressed that anyone failing to follow proper procedures and protocols will be held accountable.
“The administration will work with lawmakers to both strengthen the emergency response to pandemic related outbreaks at our veterans’ homes and ensure IDPH has the resources it needs to rebuild their hollowed out state agency that has been on the frontlines of this pandemic response,” stated Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh.
The administration also explained IDPH already implemented every audit recommendation stemming from the Legionnaires’ outbreak investigation in Quincy. Abudayyeh said that included the recommendation for on-site visits from IDPH within 24 hours of Legionella detection.
Still, Welter filed House Resolution 62 to call upon the Auditor General to conduct an audit of the state’s response to the LaSalle outbreak.
“If the 3-day delay in Quincy was too long and unacceptable, and the governor made a huge campaign issue out of it, what’s 12 days? What’s 12 days if that was unacceptable,” Welter asked.
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora), House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chair, already signed on as a co-sponsor of Welter’s resolution. Welter also said Monday that he’s talked with several House Democrats who supported the Auditor General’s investigation under former governor Bruce Rauner. He feels lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should vote in support of both proposals since “it’s the right thing to do.”
“We can’t take things for granted. We need to make sure that we pass and implement legislation that will compel the administration to follow best practices,” said Rezin.