(The Center Square) – A bill that would create the Veterans’ Accountability Unit in the wake of last year’s COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home that killed 36 veterans could soon become law.

Before unanimous passage of House Bill 359 last month, state Rep. Daniel Swanson, R-Alpha, gave a timeline from Veterans Day 2020 when an outbreak had already killed seven.

“By 17 November, 21 veterans had died at LaSalle Veterans’ Home which equaled about 21% of the total population at the veterans’ home,” Swanson recalled.

By March, 36 veterans had died of COVID-19 at the home.

Despite being nine months into the pandemic, there were issues found including no senior home administrator and error-prone policies. Swanson said he still hasn’t gotten some questions answered.

“One investigation reports that the wrong hand sanitizer was being used,” Swanson said. “Nine months to prepare and still using the wrong sanitizer.”

Earlier this year, the House nearly unanimously called for the Auditor General’s review. Before leaving Springfield last month, state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, got unanimous approval of HB359.

“To start making sure that we are holding individuals accountable, this bill is the Veterans’ Accountability Unit,” Kifowit said. “It is separate from IDVA, it is separate from the governor’s office.”

The measure synopsis explains the bill has the governor appoint a Senate-confirmed director of the unit for a four-year term that will maintain “regular office hours” and establish “both a toll-free helpline and a dedicated electronic mail address for the purpose of accepting complaints, information, and recommendations. Provides that the Unit shall function independently of the Department.”

“It’s an independent initiative to bring a voice to those who have concerns and issues in our veterans’ home,” Kifowit said.

The measure passed both chambers unanimously and is poised for the governor’s desk.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.