Longtime Aurora resident and Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia announced this week that the IDVA has released two reports addressing the recent outbreak of COVID-19 at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in LaSalle.
Kane County Veterans Affairs Superintendent Jacob Zimmerman said 104 of the 121 residents of the Ottawa facility have been infected and 27 have died. Additionally, 94 staff have been infected.
According to an IDVA news release, the department is is adopting all recommendations in the reports in all four of the Illinois Veterans’ homes and is releasing the reports in their entirety to the public.
The administration has also ordered the acting inspector general from the Illinois Department of Human Services to conduct an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the outbreak at the LaSalle home and will immediately address any findings from that investigation.
“As a proud Army veteran, I take the mission of safeguarding the wellbeing of our veteran heroes very personally,” Chapa LaVia said. “These brave men and women sacrificed everything fighting for the freedoms we so often take for granted. It is our moral obligation to care for them just as they have cared for us.
“The recent outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent loss of lives at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home is a tragedy. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of those who have become ill and those who have passed on.”
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said long-term care facilities, like our veterans’ homes, are at greater risk for COVID-19 spread.
“Increased spread of the virus in the community can also threaten residents in long-term care facilities as health care workers can be exposed to COVID-19 while away from work and then inadvertently introduce the virus into the facility,” she said. “We can all help protect our honored heroes in our veterans’ homes by decreasing the amount of virus circulating in our communities by staying home as much as possible, wearing our masks, and watching our distance.”
Upon receiving the reports, IDVA acted immediately to adopt all recommendations at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home and the remaining three Veterans’ homes where applicable.
This included re-training staff on mask requirements, replacing one brand of hand sanitizer with a product more effective at fighting the virus, and strengthening the screening process for employees as they arrive for work and during periodic checks during the workday.
To ensure transparency and accountability, the administration has instructed the inspector general of the Department of Human Services to conduct an independent investigation of the outbreak at LaSalle, aimed at uncovering any lapses in protocol and employee compliance with rules, which will enable IDVA to ensure best practices moving forward.
Pending this investigation, officials said all issues uncovered will be addressed expeditiously.
According to the IDVA news release, staff have been provided with full PPE since the onset of the pandemic. This has included N95 and surgical masks, shoe coverings, gowns, face shields, gloves, goggles and glasses. They have been educated on how to use this equipment and on steps they can take in their personal lives to limit their exposure to COVID-19.
When observed, administrators and supervisors have immediately corrected improper use of PPE.
Residents and employees have been tested on a rolling basis, with testing significantly ramped up in recent months as the state testing infrastructure expanded. Before the positivity rate skyrocketed in LaSalle County, employees were tested weekly per IDPH, CMS and CDC guidelines and employees received daily temperature screenings before entering the building.
Residents were tested periodically and upon discovery of any changes with employees testing results.
Since the outbreak at the home, employees are tested with rapid-result antigen tests prior to every shift and residents are tested every day. Daily screening processes have been intensified by including a rigorous interview by an RN, VNAC, or supervisor.
If residents or employees show symptoms, they are immediately isolated and tested. Employees found positive and/or experiencing symptoms are sent home to self-isolate while residents remain isolated and under strict observation.
According to the IDVA news release on Tuesday, Nov. 24, LaSalle County’s positivity rate was at 20.8% at that time.
SOURCE: IDVA news release