Failure led to fatal delays at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home
State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) and State Representative David Welter (R-Morris) announced legislation today that would finally implement key recommendations from the Illinois Auditor General’s Performance Audit of the Quincy Veterans Home Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Both lawmakers said the implementation of the recommendations could have saved lives during the deadly LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 outbreak.
In March 2019, the Illinois Auditor General released its report outlining a series of recommendations for the Illinois Departments of Public Health (IDPH) and Veteran Affairs (IDVA) to strengthen internal policies and procedures. Those recommendations included:
Ensuring a timely response for on-site assistance
Improving communications between IDPH and IDVA personnel, and
Implementing CDC recommendations following a confirmed outbreak.
During the legislative hearings into the LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 outbreak, an IDPH official confirmed IDPH still has no policy governing when the agency will make on-site visits. This lack of a clear policy persists even though IDPH has had nearly two years since the Auditor General’s report recommended that IDPH institute such a policy. As an IDPH official noted at a previous hearing, the failure to go on-site in a timely fashion negatively impacted the state’s response to the COVID outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.
“As with IDVA, IDPH must be held accountable, too. It’s the Pritzker Administration’s responsibility to ensure the safety of our veterans, but key recommendations from the Illinois Auditor General’s report were ignored, which led to fatal errors by the administration in their response to the deadly COVID outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home,” stated Sen. Rezin. “The Pritzker Administration had nine months to implement these recommendations before the pandemic began, yet they failed to do so with devastating consequences. They have had another three months to implement these recommendation since this tragic outbreak, yet again they still have not done so.”
In response to this failure, Sen. Rezin has filed Senate Bill 2251, which would implement the core recommendations from the Auditor General’s report. Senate Bill 2251 would do the following:
Redefine the definition of an outbreak to include two or more individuals at a Veterans Home who have contracted an infectious disease within 48 hours of the first diagnosis;
Require the home administrator or administrative staff to notify IDVA and IDPH as soon as an outbreak has occurred;
Require IDVA and IDPH to conduct an on-site visit within one business day of being notified of an outbreak; and
Require IDVA to post the findings of the on-site inspection on their website.
Had IDPH developed a policy, as recommended by the Auditor General, state public health officers would not have waited nearly two weeks to respond to the 2020 LaSalle Veterans’ Home outbreak. Sen. Rezin and Rep. Welter said the failure by IDPH to conduct such a visit led to a delay in discovering significant deficiencies and lapses in protocols, including failure to follow CDC guidelines, and the lack of effective supplies to safeguard against COVID spread, including improper hand sanitizer and face masks. By ignoring the Auditor General’s findings, the Pritzker Administration mismanaged the COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.
“Safeguards must be put in place to ensure that our nation’s heroes are fully protected in any future public health crisis,” said Rep. Welter. “The fact is the tragedy at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home that claimed the lives of 36 veterans in the state’s care could have been prevented had the Administration acted beforehand to implement the recommendations from the Illinois Auditor General’s report on the Quincy Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, and had they not waited 12-days to conduct an on-site visit at LaSalle. By introducing this legislation today, we are putting the full weight of our efforts behind making the reforms we know Illinois needs to put the health and safety of our veterans first.”
In part because of this delayed response, 208 cases occurred with 36 deaths, making this the deadliest outbreak at a state-run facility in Illinois history.