SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- House lawmakers put officials from the Pritzker administration in the hot seat Thursday demanding why they didn’t act sooner to prevent the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee asked the administration never filled a nursing home administrator job after the employee retired in 2019. Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) suggested the outbreak may not have been as bad if Pritzker filled that job.
Yednock asked Deputy Governor Sol Flores why they still haven’t filled the position.
"It’s my commitment and the Governor’s office’s commitment to hire the most qualified candidate as soon as possible," said Flores. "We are currently reviewing candidates."
Terry Prince, Acting Director for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, further explained the process of hiring a new employee.
"It’s very important to me to have the right person in that position," said Prince. "I don’t believe in hiring people just to fill spots and say we have a spot because that work doesn’t get done properly."
Republicans asked Flores multiple times how she would grade the home’s response to this outbreak.
"Understanding the tragedy that has happened at LaSalle…after reading the Inspector General’s report, I would give the management of the LaSalle home a ‘F,’" said Flores. "It was a tragedy. People died. That is unacceptable."
While Flores received reports from the IDVA, she didn’t work on-site in order to know exactly how they dealt with this situation.
New director: new policies
Flores stressed that IDVA already fired all of the staff that failed to address problems at the facility. Now, Prince has taken significant steps to make policy changes at every home.
"I instituted 13 new infection control policies that standardize our programs in all four homes," said Prince. "In my first 30 days, I’ve visited and met with leadership teams at each of our veterans’ homes."
Republicans recalled Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike told the public last fall that staff at the LaSalle facility were doing their best to prevent further spread of COVID-19. However, the Inspector General’s report showed the home didn’t have the correct PPE. The facility also wasn’t following proper COVID-19 guidelines to keep residents safe.
"Obviously those are not best efforts," said Ezike. "Obviously those are areas of deficiency that needed to be corrected."
Lawmakers also argued IDPH couldn’t know what staff implemented at the facility if they rarely showed up to the facility.
"Obviously if we could have gone into so many more places – if we had the bandwidth, if we had many more people and could go to physically more places – we would have identified some of the things that maybe you can’t tell from the conversations," said Ezike.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee plans to hold its first hearing addressing the Inspector General’s report Friday afternoon.
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May 13, 2021 at 08:29PM