‘The state failed’: Lawmakers, including McHenry’s Craig Wilcox, demand legislation to prevent another veterans home outbreak, like in La Salle

Rezin calls for giving the inspector general subpoena power

Three lawmakers gathered Monday outside the Illinois Veterans Home at La Salle to demand the Legislature take steps there won’t be another novel coronavirus outbreak inside the facility, including giving inspectors generals in Illinois authority to subpoena former state employees.

State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) held a press conference Monday announcing new legislation she filed to fix a series of failures she said led to the infection and death of 36 veterans from COVID-19.

“The tragedy that occurred behind me should have never happened,” Rezin said. “The residents of the La Salle Veterans Home served and protected our nation when we needed it; but when they needed us to serve and protect them, the state failed.”

Rezin said she was “outraged” when she found out the former head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and the former administrator La Salle both refused to answer questions in a state investigation. Asked why, Rezin said she was advised the inspector general does not have the power to compel people to answer.

Now, Rezin proposes a measure (Senate Bill 1445) that would, among other items, give the inspector general power to subpoena agency directors or any individual with authority to implement policy.

Rezin has previously filed legislation to demand the state implement “life-saving” policies and procedures learned from an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at the Quincy facility, but which were not implemented in the year between when the report was concluded and when the COVID-19 outbreak took place, evidenced by the fact workers inside the facility reported, “Nobody seemed to know what to do.”

The pending legislation includes:

  • Facilities licensed and operated by the state must conduct outbreak preparedness drills (SB 1471)
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health must have an onsite visit within one business day of an infections outbreak at a veterans home (SB 2251)
  • The Auditor General must conduct a performance audit of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and IDPH management of the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the La Salle facility (SB 2252)

Those bills, however, are being held and Rezin said she’s been given no explanation why.

State Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) said he’s received anonymous calls from La Salle facility workers who variously described not only a lack of direction but gaps in policy and procedure: Residents weren’t screened after returning from off-site visits and workers were ordered to report for work, and without protective gear, despite displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

State Sen. Craig Wilcox (R-McHenry) doesn’t represent the district that includes the La Salle facility but he’s a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and minority spokesman for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He echoed the call for hearings and actions from the Illinois General Assembly and the Gov. JB Pritzker administration.

“There’s no excuse for the negligence shown by this administration,” Wilcox said. “Their families will soon be acknowledging Independence Day this summer without answers and without their loved ones.”

And Welter apologized to those families, lamenting the fact at a recent Pritzker press conference “there was no remorse or even apology to those families and those who’ve been impacted here.”