Opinions have varied on just about everything to do with the COVID-19 crisis. But let’s lay out some cold, hard facts.
By the end of November 2020, a stunning 203 COVID-19 cases had been identified at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home in downstate LaSalle.
The magnitude of that number is perhaps best understood when expressed as a percentage. Between Oct. 23 and Dec. 9 of that year, 109 of the home’s 128 residents tested positive. That’s about 85%. In other words, if you were a resident there in the fall of 2020, your chances of coming down with the virus were very high.
Part of the issue was that 88 of the home’s 231 staffers also tested positive. That’s 38%. And since staff members interacted with multiple residents, moving from place to place, the odds of an infected person walking into your room at the La Salle Veterans’ Home were, well, pretty much a sure thing.
The consequence? Death. Thirty-six residents of the home died due to COVID-19, many during a terrible single week in November.
We are not talking March or April 2020, when America and much of the rest of the world was thrust into the chaotic unknown. We’re talking November, several months later, in the middle of a fall resurgence following what turned out to be an all-too-brief respite over the summer months.
All of these figures, which are enough to turn your stomach, are contained in a May 5 report from the state’s Office of the Auditor General, which found enough things wrong at the La Salle Veterans’ Home that the people of this state should vow that this never occurs again in the Land of Lincoln.
Among the findings of the audit of the state’s response: The Illinois Department of Public Health did not “identify and respond to the seriousness of the outbreak,” even though the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs was keeping their sister agency fully up to date, “almost on a daily basis.”
Had it done so, some of those lives might have been saved.
The IDVA chief of staff, the report says, tried to get the IDPH to visit the facility or provide rapid tests and crucial antiviral treatments but little happened in a timely way. According to the report, the IDPH “did not offer any advice or assistance as to how to slow the spread at the home.”
Drink that in for a second. The state agency charged with public health allegedly offered neither advice nor assistance to a nursing home where as many as 85% of the residents were on their way to becoming infected and where 36 of them would die.
In what circumstances could it possibly be more important that the IDPH offer its advice and assistance than this one?
The report hardly exonerates the home itself. The testing regime there was marred by delays that likely proved fatal.
The home knew that at least two members of staff and two residents had tested positive by Sunday, Nov. 1. The IDVA knew about it but did not have adequate protocols in place. The IDPH knew about it. So, according to the audit, did the state’s first assistant deputy governor for health and human services. But knowing about it and doing something about it clearly was not the same thing.
The home didn’t test the rest of the staff until Nov. 3, 4, and 5, an unconscionable delay. And that was just the process of collection. The tests then had to go to the lab and the results didn’t come back to the home until Nov. 6 and 7, close to a full week after the home knew it had a crisis.
As context, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first antigen test for emergency use on May 9. Abbott Diagnostics Scarborough, Inc’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card was authorized for use at the point-of-care under an emergency use authorization that was issued in August 2020. There also is a mention in the report of staff attending a Halloween party, although as with most COVID-19 issues, there is no certainty as to its role in the infection of those residents.
It is, of course, important to see what transpired at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home in the context of the overall situation that fall in downstate Illinois, when cases were increasingrapidly in that part of the state. This was before the vaccine had become widely available, of course. And all of the agencies mentioned in the audit were strapped, stressed and struggling to see the full picture of what was happening around them. It is one thing to look back now with a critical eye and another to live through those circumstances.
Illinois was hardly alone in failing to take care of the vulnerable residents of its nursing homes. Although initially heralded as a pandemic hero on CNN, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo later was accused both of forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive patients coming out of New York’s hospitals and then obfuscating the data surrounding the deaths of nursing home residents in the state.
Nonetheless, it’s crystal clear that Illinois failed the residents of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home and their families. The exits that followed, both at the home and the IDVA, were justified. But the report also is very critical of the IDPH, which Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker defended at a recent news conference, mostly on the grounds that outbreaks were everywhere at the time. He also blamed Republicans for, he said, resisting some of these mitigation policies.
Still, the facts are the facts. Isolation protocols were bad. Other procedures were poorly implemented if they were in place at all. Testing took much too long. The virus moved far more quickly than those whose job it was to offer protection.
For those lying in beds at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, it didn’t matter which agency screwed up more, or that most failed them. In this case, most everyone failed, the home became a petri dish and 36 people died in a matter of weeks. Imagine the anguish of family members.
Our collective failure to protect elderly, vulnerable residents in nursing homes will be one of the lasting shames of the COVID-19 crisis, notwithstanding all the gallant efforts to tame and to inoculate us from a virus that was an inconvenience to many but deadly to some.
May we all learn from the experience.
via Chicago Tribune
May 9, 2022 at 08:21PM