Lawmakers demand answers after deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Illinois veterans home

Coronavirus

LASALLE, Ill. — State lawmakers are demanding answers Tuesday following a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 at an Illinois veterans home.

Health officials said 27 veterans who were living at the Illinois Veterans Home in LaSalle have died from COVID-19 and more than 200 residents and staff tested positive to date.

While the numbers are reportedly heading in the right direction, including 38 veterans who recovered and 76 staff members who are on the mend, state senators were anxious to find out what went wrong during a hearing Tuesday.

The first veteran who contracted COVID-19 while living at the home tested positive on November 1 after going to the hospital for a procedure. Routine surveillance testing the next day found 48 veterans and eight staff were also positive. 

By November 9, three veterans died, and by the time Federal infection control inspectors visited the facility on November 13, 63% of residents and 42% of staff tested positive. 

During a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday, state lawmakers questioned Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs head Linda Chapa LaVia.

“You have COVID running rampant through other counties besides LaSalle, but yet the Veterans Home in Manteno and Quincy, have been able to largely avoid the type of tragedy that we’ve seen in LaSalle,” said Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Murphysboro).

LaVia said it was “no coincidence” that cases began to rise inside the veterans’ home at the same time as cases rose in the surrounding community. 

“This virus attacks quickly,” LaVia said. “I feel our staff moved as quickly as they could.”

Inspections revealed several issues at the home, including big challenges with testing results not coming back in a timely manner, and breaks in infection control practices by staff including lax masking procedures and no social distancing.

Issues of short staffing were also a concern, including whether staff was required to work even though they tested positive for Covid.

“There has not been anybody required to work when they have tested positive… we have found five instances where employees work after they had been alerted that they are positive,” said  IDVA Chief of Staff Tony Kolbeck.

The IDVA is now seeking an independent investigation to look at issues at the LaSalle Veterans Home, but that could take four to six months.

“But we want to make sure that we get to the bottom of this, and I thought it’s very important that we go above and beyond,” LaVia said.

IDVA officials said the body already adopted all infection control recommendations made in the report, including having all staff take rapid antigen tests at the beginning of their shift. A few staff members have been found Covid positive but asymptomatic.

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