EYE ON ILLINOIS: Who will ultimately be held accountable for veterans home outbreak?

Someone needs to be fired.

It’s hard to come up with a different takeaway after getting more details about protocol breakdowns at the La Salle Veterans Home, where more than 200 staff and residents contracted coronavirus in November, killing nearly 30 residents.

At a Tuesday hearing the state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee learned some staff wore unverified masks while the home had a hand sanitizer without alcohol and employed self-reporting methods in place of direct health screenings.

Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris — inexplicably barred from the online meeting, despite the home being in her district — issued a blistering statement:

"The idea that COVID positive staff was allowed to continue working in the home is alarming and unacceptable," Rezin wrote. "The governor’s Department of Public Health waited 11 days to show up on-site, which caused significant delays in correcting infection control deficiencies leading to this fatal outbreak. Additional legislative hearings must continue to get the full story of what happened."

The IDPH doesn’t belong to the governor, of course, but as the state’s top executive it’s only fair to assign some degree of responsibility. After all, the last governor took a lot of heat for the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak at the Quincy home, a similarly horrible situation that fortunately killed fewer people.

Tuesday’s hearing detailed reports of staff members ignoring safety guidelines. Those who worked while positive did so because there was no one else to report for duty — at least they only worked with COVID-positive residents. The hand sanitizer news alone is enough to call into question the entire Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since the earliest days of the pandemic the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s infection control guidelines for health care providers clearly recommended hand rub with between 60 and 95 percent. The CDC prefers sanitizer over soap and water unless hands are visibly soiled, specifically because evidence shows people are more likely to use gel. But if the La Salle home was full of what essentially is a liquid placebo, can there be any surprise at the ultimate result?

State health and veterans officials said they responded as quickly as possible — it’s not like they have no other irons in the fire — including a site visit the day after contact from the county health department. But this situation reveals the state’s protocols to be built on a foundation of undeserved trust — at least in La Salle County.

It’s perhaps encouraging there are no similar outbreaks at other state medical facilities, but the clear shortcomings in La Salle are little comfort to those directly affected.

Firing someone won’t heal the sick or revive the dead. But hearings alone don’t bring accountability, and this terrible situation is simply unacceptable.