Eye On Illinois: Past time to get serious about public health crisis reforms

If not now, when?

State Sen. Sue Rezin didn’t need to use that phrase to make her point crystal clear. During a press conference Thursday, the veteran Morris Republican again stressed the importance of examining exactly what went wrong at the La Salle Veterans Home in fall 2020, where a COVID-19 outbreak led to hundreds of positive tests and 36 resident fatalities.

It’s not unexplored territory. There have been investigations and committee hearings and a few terminations, but Rezin continues to assert her belief that Illinois is not adequately prepared for the next veterans home crisis.

Rezin’s concern isn’t political posturing. We need only to look back at the Gov. Bruce Rauner-era Legionnaire’s disease outbreak at the Quincy home to realize there weren’t enough lessons learned to present coronavirus from wreaking havoc at La Salle under Gov. JB Pritzker. Although one is a bacteria and the other a virus, it remains astounding that 40-plus veterans died under state care in just a few years and there’s still questions about adequate protections for whatever might come next.

“How many reports must land on Gov. Pritzker’s desk before he takes the safety of our veterans seriously?” Rezin asked. “It took the Pritzker administration 11 days to arrive on-site in La Salle, and it could still take the same number of days today.

The concern goes beyond just veterans homes to any state-run program that might be susceptible to a health crisis. That’s why Rezin also is also pushing for more support from lawmakers in moving out of committee her bills addressing how state facilities and health agencies prepare for and respond to health outbreaks.

Specifically, Senate Bill 3170 establishes a timetable for how soon the state health department should conduct a site visit after getting an outbreak notification. SB 1471 would make any state-operated facility conduct outbreak preparedness drills. Both proposals are so logical it’s surprising they’re not already in place, which make the fact Rezin has to browbeat colleagues in hopes of spurring action that much more frustrating.

Rezin also is stumping for SB 1445, a push to give subpoena power to the human services department’s inspector general’s office. Again, this isn’t posturing but a direct response to an identified problem: former Department of Veterans Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia stonewalled attempts to figure out how her agency failed.

Far too much proposed legislation represents solutions in search of problems, but Rezin’s ideas here are logical responses to demonstrated shortcomings that had fatal consequences. Advancing these bills doesn’t guarantee protection of state wards going forward, but we’ve already seen what happens when elected officials react insufficiently to a crisis and it’s impossible find a constituency for repeating those mistakes.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at