LASALLE, Ill. — Lawmakers on Tuesday held a public hearing to pry into last fall’s deadly coronavirus outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home that claimed the lives of 36 veterans.
The hearing, the first of two planned, came on the heels of a scathing watchdog report that found systemic problems at the facility. The report, released by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, noted a lack of planning, training and poor communication, blaming the tragedy on mismanagement.
Among the 36 fallen was Korean War vet Richard Cieski. His family and more than 20 others are now suing the veterans’ organization for wrongful death.
The causalities prompted Governor JB Pritzker to make a change in leadership. Terry Prince, a 31-year Navy veteran, was appointed to right the ship amid lawsuits that questioned the home’s capabilities. Officials alleged that control measures were not put in place to protect residents.
A state probe and 50-page report followed, looking into the root causes of the outbreak. The report found that ineffective hand sanitizer, improper symptom screening and staff touching residents without proper hygiene aided the outbreak.
The same watchdog report singled out former VA Director Linda Chapa LaVia, who “abdicated her responsibilities” to her chief of staff. Reports later found LaVia’s chief of staff had no medical background to direct important operational decisions.
On Tuesday, Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin sent Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul a letter citing laws that apply to abuse or neglect at long-term health care facilities. The letter read, in part, “This law was put into place to make sure there is accountability in our care facilities, and in this case, our veterans were under the direct care of the executive branch.”
House Republicans are urging Raoul to investigate how Pritzker’s staff mishandled the outbreak criminally.
The Illinois House Veterans’ Affairs Committee began Tuesday’s proceedings with a moment in silence in honor of the 36 veterans who lost their lives.
“What these men did for our country and then have this done to them, just horrible.”