(The Center Square) – Some state lawmakers said they were left with more questions than answers after a nearly four-hour hearing focused on a COVID-19 outbreak at a state-run veteran’s home that killed at least 33 residents.
Officials from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs were on hand to answer questions Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health said department officials sent consultant Dr. Avery Hart, but he couldn't answer all the questions posed by committee members.
“I wasn’t in the mix at that point so I don’t think I would comment,” Hart said. “I know there’s an independent investigation by the inspector general to clarify the timeline.”
Hart had to leave the nearly four-hour meeting early.
Republicans on the committee demanded to know more about the timeline of the outbreak and the state’s response to it. In particular, state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, wanted to know if not having a more rapid on-site visit from IDPH may have made the situation worse.
Rezin was allowed to take part in the House hearing after being blocked from last month’s Senate hearing on the issue.
State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, told IDVA Director Linda Chapa LaVia it was unacceptable that IDPH didn’t send officials to answer questions.
“They are leaving you director, frankly, to answer for their failure to show up today and the twelve days it took them to get on-site at the LaSalle home,” Welter said. “It’s a clear indication they are covering up their inaction by refusing to participate in legislative hearings and it’s shameful.”
Committee chairwoman state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, sought more information about how much training had taken place throughout the year, noting that many infection control measures were known as far back in the spring.
A report released before last month’s Senate hearing highlighted ineffective hand sanitizer, improper use of personal protective equipment by staff, and other problems.
State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, demanded accountability.
Chapa LaVia took some responsibility while shifting some to local officials in LaSalle, who she said made the situation worse by failing to enforce COVID-19 restrictions on private businesses.
“The items that were pointed out in the report were open and obvious precautions that were not being met by the administrator on-site,” Keicher said.
He then had an official with IDVA acknowledge an OSHA complaint was filed against the state for having COVID-19 positive employees work.
That administrator has since been fired, but questions remain.
State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, said more hearings are needed to get to the bottom of what caused an outbreak that killed at least 33 residents.
“Let’s not talk around the edges of it, let’s just say this is what we think happened and support it,” Yednock said.
More hearings are expected after the holidays.
The Pritzker administration has said an inspector general is investigating.
Wednesday’s hearing was the first public House oversight hearing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic all year.