FILE - Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health, 1-30-2020

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Chicago.

(The Center Square) – The call for a criminal investigation by law enforcement into COVID-19 deaths at Illinois’ veterans' homes is getting louder.

During a news conference Tuesday, House Republicans said it is a tragedy that 76 veterans have died in state-run homes since the pandemic began. They also said Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration must be held accountable.

“How could the governor and his team have allowed this to happen, knowing that our veterans were at risk prior to this pandemic?” said state Rep. David Welter, R-Morris. “The question will continue to haunt the families of the heroes that we lost at the LaSalle home and our other veterans homes across the state.”

An Inspector General report showed repeated failures to follow COVID-19 guidelines at the Lasalle Veterans Home where 36 residents died. Records indicate it took 12 days for an Illinois Department of Public Health official to conduct an onsite investigation of the outbreak.

“Our veterans deserve better, they have a right to be cared for and protected, just as they historically cared for us and protected us,” said state Rep. Paul Jacobs, R-Pomona. “The administration needs to get this mess straightened out.”

Illinois’ Public Health Director and Pritzker’s deputy in charge of health care recently stated they were misled by top state veterans affairs officials when told COVID-19 procedures were being followed that could have slowed or prevented the deadliest outbreak, at the LaSalle Veterans Home in November. Thirty-six veterans there have died since the pandemic began.

“We believed the home was following all the recommended protocols and that the appropriate steps were being taken to address the cases," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike told an Illinois House hearing on an inspector general’s report on the outbreak.

Some relatives of the veterans who died in the COVID-19 outbreak have filed lawsuits against the state as a result of the report’s findings.

The governor has put the blame on former Illinois Department of Veteran’s Affairs director Linda Chapa LaVia, who he said he hired because she was an integral part of the investigation into the Legionnaire disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home several years ago. She resigned shortly after the news of the outbreak came to light.

“Each veteran stepped up to the call to protect their fellow Americans,” said Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield. “It is deeply troubling when we failed to protect them as they thought to protect us.”

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.