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House Republicans say Pritzker should take responsibility for COVID-19 deaths at LaSalle Veterans’ Home

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- The Office of the Inspector General released a report Friday detailing the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans' Home in October.

House Republicans say the Pritzker administration failed to protect Illinois' heroes, as 36 residents died due to COVID-19 complications. The report released by the Department of Veterans' Affairs showed the root cause of this outbreak stemmed from inadequate policies, education, and training among employees.

Republicans questioned why it took the administration six weeks to respond if Gov. JB Pritzker knew about it earlier. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said Pritzker should have started to prepare for the outbreak after one veteran had tested positive.

"We lost 36 honored veterans at LaSalle and many more suffered through a terrifying illness that may cause long-term damage," said Durkin. "All of this was avoidable. So Governor, the question I have for you, where does the buck stop?"

Durkin said Pritzker needs to take responsibility now instead of saying the administration will do better next time. The Republican stressed the 36 families deserve justice and closure from this deadly situation.

Pritzker: "If I knew then what I know now"

Pritzker responded to the report during an unrelated press conference Friday. The governor said he will not rest until all Illinois veterans are safe. He claims he asked for this investigation so that Illinois residents could know what happened and how to fix it.

While Pritzker said the report showed changes need to be made, he stressed the department has already started to address those changes.

"These are precisely the fixes that our new director of IDVA has focused on in the few weeks that he's been on the job," said Pritzker. "Neither of us will rest until we're satisfied that all of our veterans are safe."

Pritzker hired former IDVA director Linda Chapa LaVia in 2019. The report details several witnesses who noted that Chapa LaVia was not a hands-on or engaged day-to-day director. The former state representative stepped down from her leadership role with the department in January.

"She seemed like an ideal person to be able to root out the problems in our veterans' homes," Pritzker said. "But, I have to admit that if I knew then what I know now, I would not have hired her."

Swanson: "These veterans survived battlefield conditions"

Rep. Dan Swanson (R-Woodhull) found the report upsetting. Swanson said it was hard to see the details, as the Republican is a veteran himself.

"These veterans survived battlefield conditions to scum within the walls of our Illinois veterans' home," said Swanson. "Their families trusted us with their care and protection."

Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) feels what happened in LaSalle was one of the most tragic circumstances Illinois has dealt with during the pandemic.

"What made it even more difficult though is the acknowledgment that this happened despite the knowledge that those most at risk for COVID - those most at risk for death from coronavirus - were folks who were over the age of 65 and folks who live in long-term care facilities," Demmer said.

Demmer feels IDVA was well aware of that fact. Yet, he argues the department took no action to protect those who have fought for the country.

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) said the report detailed several instances of staff that didn't have proper training.

"Staff did not comply with even rudimentary protocols such as making sure you weren't wearing the same dirty pair of gloves when you went from one patient to another," Mazzochi explained. "Staff members were putting in the same room a COVID positive veteran with a COVID negative veteran."

Mazzochi noted the outbreak got so bad that Pritzker had to call in the National Guard for help. She also said the facility staff failed to ask for resources within the home.

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