Where was the Governor’s leadership during the deadly outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home?

Newly released inspector general report confirms the Governor’s Office took no
active role in managing the deadliest outbreak at a state-run facility in Illinois history

Today, State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) called for more answers from Governor Pritzker following the release of the inspector general’s report detailing the fall 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, claiming the lives of 36 veterans and leaving hundreds of residents and staff infected.

While the report blasts the leadership team at the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA), what is more surprising is how little the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Governor’s Office were involved in overseeing the outbreak. The Pritzker Administration ignored critical recommendations from the Auditor General’s 2019 performance audit, calling for improved communications and policies and procedures between the IDVA and IDPH during an outbreak.

“Despite skyrocketing cases and rising death counts, the Governor’s Office was just as AWOL as the inspector general found the Veterans’ Home director,” said Sen. Rezin. “It took several weeks into the outbreak for the Governor’s Office to get involved, and even then, it was only reactionary steps designed to deflect from their fatal mismanagement.”

The report added, IDPH was waiting to be asked for assistance before taking action. Yet, the agency’s role is regulatory, and IDPH’s leadership team received daily information on the severity of the outbreak and still chose to do nothing. Even an IDPH contractor admitted during a legislative hearing how IDPH’s lack of an immediate on-site response hurt efforts in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

In March 2019, the Illinois Auditor General released a performance audit following the deadly Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans’ Home. While some of the audit’s recommendations explicitly dealt with Legionnaires’ Disease, others dealt with responding to any type of outbreak. Those recommendations were:

Recommendation 3 (Report page 100): Monitoring by IDPH

  • “The Illinois Department of Public Health should revisit its policies and determine what response timeframe is adequate to conduct on-site monitoring visits in response to a confirmed outbreak…”
  • “The Illinois Department of Public Health should increase communication with the facility’s staff during future outbreaks to ensure that IDPH is aware of the severity of the outbreak.”

 

Recommendation 4 (Report on page 100): Recommendations by the CDC

  • “The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs should ensure the state facilities, such as the Quincy Veterans’ Home, implement all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control following confirmed outbreaks…”

 

The Pritzker Administration ignored every one of these recommendations. According to legislative testimony by IDPH’s chief of staff, the agency had no policy for conducting on-site monitoring visits in response to a confirmed outbreak. The Pritzker Administration did not implement new communication protocols to ensure IDPH was fully aware of the severity of the outbreak since agency personnel failed to arrive on-site for nearly two weeks. Despite the Auditor General’s recommendation, there were no mechanisms to ensure CDC recommendations were being followed at the LaSalle home or any other state-run facility.

“A LaSalle Veterans’ Home nurse summarized the outbreak response by saying, ‘nobody seemed to know what to do,” said Sen Rezin. “Nobody indeed knew what to do at the Veterans’ Home, and nobody cared to do anything about it at the Governor’s Office.”

Sen. Rezin is also calling for a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Committees on the report’s findings.

“What seems oddly bizarre is how little the Governor is mentioned throughout the 50-page report,” said Sen. Rezin. “Either this is a result of his lack of leadership throughout the disaster or it is an intentional omission by the OIG, who reports to his Administration. This is exactly why we need a hearing to discuss the report’s findings and have an independent investigation conducted by the Auditor General.”

 

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