Gov. JB Pritzker is under fire from critics after the administration published a long-awaited report examining what led to the massive COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home last fall, which left 36 residents dead.
The investigation, which Pritzker ordered a few weeks into the deadly outbreak in November, found systemic organizational problems and failures to communicate in both the LaSalle Home and the state’s Department of Veteran Affairs, which runs the facility and three other veterans homes in Illinois.
Along with inconsistent and confusing COVID protocols that led to lax enforcement among staff, the report also found former agency Director Linda Chapa LaVia “abdicated” her responsibilities to her chief of staff, who in essence performed three jobs. The failure to fill crucial vacant jobs inevitably left the chief of staff and other managers in IDVA and at the LaSalle home “with too many responsibilities to effectively lead.”
Pritzker’s new pick for IDVA head, Acting Director Terry Prince, made assurances Friday that many of the suggested changes included in the report have either already been made or are in the process of being fixed. But both stakeholders and political rivals piled on.
Republicans predictably pointed to Pritzker’s 2018 campaign against Gov. Bruce Rauner, in which Pritzker harped on the Republican governor’s handling of a 2015 outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease at the Quincy Veterans Home, in which 13 residents died and dozens more were sickened.
The The Illinois Association of County Veterans Assistance Commissions, which advocates for veterans in the state, said the community was “in utter shock and disbelief” after reading the report. IACVAC President Michael Brooks pointed to a litany of issues in the Department of Veterans Affairs over the last decade, claiming that Illinois had “gone from one of the best states in the Union for veterans to dead last.”
“For far too long, there has been empty rhetoric and broken promises to our nation’s heroes,” Brooks said in a statement Friday. “Just in the last six years almost 100 veterans have died at our state’s veteran homes because of breakdowns in procedure, antiquated policy, and lax accountability.”
The association is calling for the creation of an inspector general’s office within the IDVA, but Pritzker is backing an alternative approach — a Veterans’ Accountability Unit within the department, which would report to the Office of the Executive Inspector General.
Both of those ideas are contained in separate amendments to legislation filed by State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego), chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Acting Director Prince, who was recently appointed to head the agency after overseeing Ohio’s veterans’ homes, did not directly comment Friday on the merits of an inspector general solely responsible for IDVA versus an accountability unit.
“When and if that bill comes to fruition, we will utilize that service as well,” Prince said in an interview.
Prince also said he would invite more oversight of Illinois’ veterans facilities, including seeking ratings by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, which monitors traditional nursing homes.
“I welcome anyone who wants to come in and walk through our homes and inspect us because I want them to see the incredible work that our staff does every day at these facilities to support Illinois’ heroes,” Prince said.
Kifowit on Friday said she was “beyond disgusted” by the report’s findings.
“It confirms the suspicions of not only myself, but other members of the committee, of the failure in leadership of the IL Department of Veterans Affairs that we witnessed in over four hours of hearings that were held in 2020,” Kifowit said in a statement.
This post will be updated.
via NPR Illinois
April 30, 2021 at 04:31PM