Editorial | Conflicting LaSalle reports require legislative inquiry

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Is it time for an investigation of the investigators?

The news media in Illinois have been filled this week with reports about the state auditor general investigation that describes how public health officials mishandled the 2020 coronavirus outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

As a consequence of an abundance of errors, there were 36 deaths. Family members of the deceased have filed a lawsuit against the state citing the admittedly negligent state response.

That’s fine as far as it goes. When state officials screw up — particularly on a scale this large — the public needs to know what happened. Things will never get better without sunshine reports like this bringing to bear on difficult issues.

But the public attention being called to last week’s report is only half of the problem that’s been exposed. The other issue — one that also is very important — is why auditor general investigators were able to discover and report damning details that did not make it into a 2021 report on the LaSalle coronavirus outbreak prepared by the inspector general at the Illinois Department of Human Services.

There were two investigations into the same events that produced two decidedly different findings — one that pulled the curtain wide open and the other that left it half closed.

It’s clear from the AG’s report that the initial investigations did not disclose the full story about who did or did not do what. Further, the initial report scapegoated for inaction the chief of staff at the veterans’ department when the auditor general’s report documented that this individual repeatedly reported the problem at LaSalle, repeatedly asked for help and repeatedly was ignored.

The auditor general’s report indicates that initial investigators relied on interviews to reach their conclusions. Auditor general investigators also conducted interviews, but they also followed the paper trail left by those they interviewed.

It’s impossible to say whether the initial report was incomplete because of incompetence, a predetermined decision not to look too deeply into what occurred or both.

Given the Pritzker administration’s embarrassment and anger over last week’s disclosures, particularly in an election year, none of those possibilities is off the table.

But it’s important to note that the state’s human services department is part of the state’s executive branch that answers to the governor. The auditor general answers to the General Assembly.

Some will automatically defend the independence of the human services department’s inspector general. But how will they explain why the more complete report was prepared by investigators who answer to the General Assembly, a separate and co-equal branch of government?

Legislators need to find out why these reports are at such variance. These issues need to be addressed to avoid similar problems in the future.

That, of course, would be the right thing to do under these circumstances. This being Illinois, of course, there are no guarantees that will happen.

via The News-Gazette

May 13, 2022 at 06:57AM

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