After weeks of refusing to request in-person hearings of COVID-19 oversight, the chairperson of the Illinois House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has formally requested a subject matter meeting to focus on the COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home.
“[T[he extreme concern and mourning of the death of 30 Veterans in the LaSalle Veterans Home by myself and members of the committee, I have no other choice but to call for an in-person Subject Matter Hearing … during this global pandemic,” state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, said in a letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff Friday.
Republicans sent Kifowit a letter demanding a hearing weeks ago.
“On Nov. 10, I and other Republican members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee sent a letter to chairperson Kifowit asking to convene an immediate hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee to investigate the spread of COVID-19 and related deaths happening in frightening numbers in the Illinois-run veterans home,” state Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, said Monday.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last week held a virtual hearing about the outbreak. Just 90-minutes before that hearing opened, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs released a report from the federal veterans affairs agency about problems inspectors witnessed in LaSalle. Those problems included lax employee screening procedures, an alleged offsite Halloween party, ineffective hand sanitizer and poor ventilation, among other issues.
The outbreak quickly spread over a number of days and lawmakers have questions about the timeline of when appropriate agencies were notified.
“We have a responsibility to provide oversight, to call witnesses and to get to the bottom of what exactly happened,” Frese said. “What has caused the sickness and deaths of veterans living under the care of the Pritzker administration?”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said they’ll answer questions, but noted an inspector general is also investigating.
Kifowit has for weeks said in-person hearings weren’t possible because of COVID-19 concerns. She also notes the Illinois House did not authorize virtual hearings as the Senate did when they were in Springfield for the truncated pandemic session in May.
The mounting deaths at the LaSalle Veterans Home demands oversight, Kifowit said.
“The Illinois House Veterans Affairs committee needs to properly discharge the duties it is established to do,” Kifowit wrote.
“Over the weeks since the outbreak was discovered, I have requested on numerous occasions, to include the Illinois House Veterans Affairs committee in Senate Subject Matter hearings,” Kfifowit said. “Joint Veterans Affairs meetings have been held in the past, most notably addressing the Quincy Home Outbreak.”
“I realize it will be challenging and costly to ensure that all the proper health protocols are in place to provide for a safe environment for us to conduct business,” Kifowit said. “I will be requiring that all committee members be COVID-19 tested prior to the committee date, all members will be required to wear a mask, and I am requesting that all other details regarding the meeting adhere to the COVID safety guidelines.”
Republicans have also been urging Kifowit to have a hearing of the House State Government Administration Committee to oversee problems at the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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