Today, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the tragic, preventable COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home, which resulted in thirty-six saddening deaths. Witnesses from the hearing included deputy governor Sol Flores, Department of Veterans (IDVA) Affairs director Terry Prince and assistant director Anthony Vaughn, and Department of Public Health (IDPH) director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
Following the investigatory report from the Illinois Department of Human Services inspector general, today’s hearing featured a series of hard, direct questions from a group of bipartisan legislators.
“The goal of today’s hearing was to understand the leadership and operational gaps that led to this tragedy so we can determine what legislative recourse we should pursue,” said committee chairwoman Stephanie Kifowit. “This is a grave matter that is far above politics and partisanship. The State of Illinois failed our veterans, and we need to work together to prevent this from ever happening again.”
In the hearing, Representative Yednock, whose district covers the LaSalle Veterans Home, zeroed in on the staffing gaps that contributed to the crisis, including the lack of a senior home administrator who would have been in charge of managing medical care.
“Unfortunately, this tragedy could have been prevented. We must keep top medical positions filled so that expertise can inform day-to-day operations and care,” said representative Lance Yednock. “Veterans have dedicated their lives to our state and country, and we owe them much more than the kind of neglect outlined in the Inspector General’s (IG) report. I am confident new leadership at Veterans Affairs will help. Still, we need to exercise our oversight responsibility as legislators to make sure we close the gaps, protect our veterans, and take care of anyone under the care of state-run homes.”
Members also focused on the causes of the hiring delays at state homes for veterans, such as workforce development and access to protective equipment.
“If as a state we ask people to enter careers of medical and health care, we need to make sure they can provide these essential services while protecting themselves too,” said representative Maura Hirschauer.
“We also need to make sure our facilities and medical staff never fall out of compliance in the first place,” added representative Yang Rohr. “Thoughtful care and oversight means developing proactive solutions, and that will be our north star as legislators.”
Following this hearing, committee members will continue their legislative inquiry for additional details to inform legislative solutions that will be considered this year.
“Serious, sober work lies ahead to make sure we exercise our legislative oversight and collaborate with the Senate, Governor’s office, IDPH and IDVA to get this right,” said vice-chairman Michael Halpin. “The IG’s report outlined what failed; now our job is to identify solutions.”
“Protecting our veterans is one of my top priorities,” said representative Dave Vella. “I appreciate the answers provided today so we and our constituents understand what happened, and we are assured there will be continued action with haste and thoroughness.”
In the meantime, chairwoman Kifowit and members express appreciation for and confidence in director Terry Prince as the new leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Committee members also thank Dr. Ezike and deputy governor Sol Flores for their honest assessment and ongoing commitment to our veterans and their care.
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