SPRINGFIELD – Both parties agreed on Friday that handling the COVID-19 outbreak, which has left 36 people dead at the LaSalle veterans home, was a mess – but they strongly disagreed on who was to blame.
Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration has once again singled out former director of veterans affairs Linda Chapa LaVia, saying she misled them into thinking she was dealing with the issues properly.
But Republicans put the blame squarely on the Democratic governor’s feet, arguing the inability to act quickly as the crisis unfolds and attempts to pass the buck indicate “leadership failure” at the top.
It was the second day of legislative hearings on the epidemic last fall. The two days saw a lot of fingerprinting.
Testifying before a state Senate committee on Friday, Deputy Governor Sol Flores said: “There was never a time when I thought [LaVia] was in absentia.
“She was always there, she always answered my calls, my emails, and she showed up to all of our bi-weekly meetings with an agenda with her chief of staff,” Flores told Senators.
But Flores said what LaVia and others in her department told her “was a long way off” from the facts later exposed in the mind-blowing report the governor asked the Inspector General of the Department of Social Services to tell her. ‘State.
“At the end of the day, this administration relied on the people we hired to get it right,” Flores said. “But when we learned that people had not performed their duties, in some cases severely, we suspended employees, fired employees and informed others that they would not continue in their duties.”
LaVia resigned in January, after Pritzker told reporters that “it was a mutual decision that she would resign”.
The Inspector General’s report released two weeks ago described a LaSalle veterans home with an “ineffective, responsive and chaotic” environment. An interim head of the house told the Inspector General that LaVia had “abdicated his authority” to his chief of staff. The report also found that LaVia failed to provide state-run veterans homes with “consistent guidelines or guidelines related to COVID-19.”
Testifying before a House panel on Thursday, Flores stuck to the administration’s claim that LaVia was to blame, even as Flores apologized on behalf of the administration, saying “everyone involved could have do more to save your loved ones. ”
Acting Inspector General Peter Nuemer said on Friday his report was “harsh but fair” and there was “absolutely” no interference from the governor’s office.
Nuemer told lawmakers LaVia declined to be interviewed for the investigation after asking questions in advance.
Flores said she was not invited to be interviewed for the report. Nuemer said he did not interview any official in the governor’s office in order to “focus on the key issues.”
State Senator Sue Rezin said she was “shocked” the watchdog did not interview veterans agency officials from the governor’s office.
“The IG report found [LaVia] completely AWOL … but [Flores] was his direct supervisor and the coordinating person outside of the governor’s office, ”said Republican Morris.
During a House hearing on Thursday, State Representative Deanne Mazzochi said the Pritzker administration and LaVia were also responsible for the mismanagement.
“For me, a good leader doesn’t just mean things happen. A good leader actually checks to see that things are going on, and you have to sit there and say, “Well, I just assumed things were going on.” It’s a failure of leadership, ”said the Republican from Elmhurst.
On Friday, State Senator Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, argued that LaVia had engaged in “a pretty good trick” and that he was “sorry” that the Pritzker administration fell under the spell of his deception.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike also blamed the Department of Veterans Affairs leadership for the failures at LaSalle’s house.
“Based on what we heard at the time, we believed the home was following all recommended protocols and the appropriate steps were being taken to deal with the cases,” Ezike said.
LaVia’s successor, Veterans Affairs Director Terry Prince, told lawmakers that since taking over the agency, he has “instituted 13 new infection control policies that standardize … the four [veterans] houses. ”
A 31-year-old US Navy veteran with experience leading state veterans homes in Ohio, Prince has vowed “not to present any information to my superiors or to you as as legislators whose veracity I have not verified myself.
“As a veteran, I really feel sick to my heart for the 23 United States soldiers, seven sailors, five airmen and one navy who lost the lives of the LaSalle veterans home,” Prince said. “Even with this heartbreak in my heart, my job is not only to get IDVA through this tragedy, but also to accelerate the process of improvement to serve my fellow veterans with the highest degree of care, professionalism and transparency.