Lasalle, IL – Authorities are investigating why more than two dozen veterans at the LaSalle Veterans Home in north-central Illinois have died of COVID-19 infections.
The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, state House of Representatives and Senate and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office all are investigating the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 28 residents at the state-operated veterans’ home in LaSalle County.
An estimated 200 residents and staff were reported to have been infected. Linda Chapa LaVia, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said an inspector general from the Illinois Department of Human Services would conduct an independent investigation into the outbreak.
STATE LAWMAKERS ALSO INVESTIGATING
In Springfield, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing and was discussing holding another one, and House members demanded to be included in future hearings. Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park), chair of the Veterans Committee, said he is planning the next hearing.
“This hearing will help answer questions and give the residents, their families and Senate committee members greater insight into the safety protocols used by the LaSalle Veterans’ Home staff to keep our veterans healthy and safe,” Cullerton said. “We hope to work together to ensure our veterans receive the best care possible.”
Rep. Andre Thapedi, chair of the House Judiciary-Civil Committee, sent a detailed list of questions about policies, equipment and reports to the home’s administrator.
“The tragedy of what has unfolded at the veterans’ home cannot be overstated,” said state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris). “I’m glad that the director (Chapa LaVia) has called for an independent investigation and agree that there are lessons to be learned from this terrible outbreak that has claimed the lives of 28 of our nation’s heroes.”
The trouble started in October, when a staff member and a resident tested positive. By late November, two-thirds of residents and staff had tested positive.
“On Nov. 4, there were only four cases of COVID within the home,” Rezin said. “Very quickly within the past 20 days, we’ve had almost 200 cases.” She said that at one point, COVID-positive staff members were allowed to continue working.
Dr. Avery Hart, a consultant for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said all 16 long-term care facilities in LaSalle County have had outbreaks as cases rose dramatically in the surrounding community. Testing of the staff and residents has increased.
Meanwhile, in Missouri, a state-commissioned investigation by the St. Louis law firm Armstrong Teasdale found officials failed to recognize the severity of early COVID-19 cases in Missouri veterans homes, and failed to aggressively correct course to fight an outbreak that has killed more than 100 veterans housed in Missouri state nursing homes since September.
Metro-East COVID-19 testing moves to St. Claire Square
Illinois’ Metro-East COVID-19 testing site will be able to accommodate more people now that it has been moved to the St. Clair Square mall in Fairview Heights after operating previously at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center in East St. Louis. The move was being made Dec. 3.
Officials said the mall’s vast parking lot has more space for cars to line up, increasing the number who can be tested each day. Walk-up testing is available, too. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. while supplies last.
The Joyner center had been collecting about 300 tests a day.
The testing is free and open to anyone, and those seeking tests do not need to be exhibiting symptoms, nor have a doctor’s order, make an appointment or have insurance.
Illinois has 11 such sites, but Fairview Heights is the only one in southern Illinois. Mobile testing teams will continue to work in East St. Louis, including from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays at 4601 State St.