LASALLE, Ill. — A report from the Illinois Office of the Auditor General says the state's public health department failed to identify and respond to a COVID-19 outbreak at a veteran's home that resulted in the deaths of 36 people back in November 2020.
The report, which was released on Thursday, is 154 pages long and details exactly how the Illinois Department of Public Health failed to care for those most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus in the LaSalle Veterans Home.
The outbreak occurred in October 2020 when cases were surging throughout the United States and there weren't any vaccines available. The background of the report says eight residents and five staff members had tested positive at the time.
By Nov. 4, 2020, 46 residents and 11 staff members had tested positive. Key findings from the report said the facility had designated areas for isolating and quarantining, but once the virus made it in it "spread very rapidly."
According to the report, documents reviewed by the auditor's office showed that health officials "did not offer any advice or assistance as to how to slow the spread at the Home, offer to provide additional rapid COVID-19 tests, and were unsure of the availability of the antibody treatments for long-term care settings prior to being requested by the IDVA (Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs) Chief of Staff."
The report also says the turnaround time for staff testing results was lengthened due to the collection method used by the facility. Staff members were tested over a three-day period, and as a result, new tests collected on Nov. 3, 4 and 5 weren't delivered to the state lab until Nov. 5 even though the first two staff members were found to be positive by Nov. 1.
The auditor's office places the blame for delayed test collection on the facility even though the state health department published the majority of results by that weekend.
"This is unacceptable," said state Rep. Dan Swanson, R-Alpha, during a press conference on Friday, May 6. "The lack of care for those service members who served in combat on foreign soils or put their lives on the line during active duty. Only to lose their lives because of failed leadership."
The Republican is now demanding accountability from Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration.
In the meantime, the auditor's office recommends the state health and veterans' affairs departments take action.
The report says the IDVA should ensure each veterans' facility has policies and procedures in place to mandate timely testing of residents and employees during COVID outbreaks and that residents and employees are tested according to the policy.
The state health department is advised to clearly define its roles when it comes to monitoring COVID outbreaks in Illinois' veterans' facilities and develop policies and procedures that clearly identify when it needs to intervene.
The report also advises the IDVA director to work with the state health department and Pritzker's office during outbreaks to advocate for the safety and wellbeing of the veterans who call these places home.