LaSalle Veterans’ Home, where dozens died earlier in COVID pandemic, reports 65 new ‘mild’ COVID-19 cases

LA SALLE, Ill. — An Illinois veterans’ home where 36 veterans died during the pandemic is experiencing another COVID-19 outbreak, state officials said Monday.

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs said 23 staff and 42 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Illinois Veterans’ Home at LaSalle – with all those who have tested positive being moved to a negative pressure isolation unit where they are being closely monitored.

The veterans’ home some 95 miles southwest of Chicago is the same facility where 36 veterans died of COVID-19 between November 2020 and January 2021.

The department said all current cases are “mild,” and staff and residents are presenting cold-like symptoms. No one has required hospitalization. The residents are vaccinated and COVID-19 treatment therapies are being administered, the department said.

A team has been at the home to provide advice and assistance, including a senior infection preventionist, the Illinois Department of Public Health’s state medical officer and Terry Prince, director of the state Veterans Affairs Department, officials said.

The latest cases come after state officials drew criticism for their handling of an outbreak at the home in 2020 and 2021, the largest in any of the state’s congregate care facilities.

A report released by Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino in May concluded that the warning flags were well-documented as two resident cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 1, 2020 quickly ballooned into 82 positive resident cases and nine resident deaths by Nov. 12, 2020.

RELATED: Families of those who died from COVID-19 at vets home in LaSalle, IL speak out: ‘They had no plan’

Mautino’s report found it took 11 days for an Illinois Department of Public Health site visit that would have recognized numerous problems, including incorrect masks, hand sanitizer without alcohol and “staff complacency.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker ousted two top officials at the home in December 2020, including the home’s director of nursing.

At the time, the governor told reporters, “it should never have been this bad.” The governor later placed blame on former state veterans’ affairs chief Linda Chapa LaVia for her department’s handling of the crisis. LaVia stepped down before a scathing report by the inspector general of the Illinois Department of Human Services was released.

The governor’s office on Monday said procedures were different during the peak of the pandemic, when infection protocols included checking in by phone, and sending additional staffers to the home was discouraged as part of the efforts to contain spread the virus. The peak of the veterans’ home outbreak also happened before vaccines were released, the governor’s office noted.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey brought up the COVID-19 deaths of veterans at the home during a televised debate last week, using it as an example of what he called Pritzker’s “incompetent and arrogant leadership,” along with children who died in the care of the state Department of Children and Family Services and lives lost to Chicago street violence.

“Thirty-six of our patrons at our LaSalle veterans’ home. Your fault,” Bailey said. “Nine children in the DCFS. That’s your fault. Over 600 deaths in Chicago, Your fault. It’s time for change.”

Bailey’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the latest outbreak.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire – Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2022.)