QUINCY – Members of the Illinois National Guard staff have been sent to the LaSalle and Quincy Veterans’ homes to assist with COVID-19 testing and screening at the facilities, Gov. JB Pritzker’s office confirmed Thursday.
It’s not a deployment and those going into the facilities are National Guard staff members and not reserve members. But Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the homes are in need of help with daily COVID-19 testing.
In a statement Thursday, La Salle County Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Steven Kreitzer said the staff are “medical units that will be utilized to maintain records of temperature checks and COVID-19 testing as well as make sure PPE is being worn at all times properly.”
“This additional help will allow the nurses to once again focus on taking care of our veteran residents in the home rather than doing or worrying about the items listed above,” Kreitzer said.
The extra help comes after a massive deadly outbreak of the virus is mostly under control at the LaSalle facility, and a smaller outbreak at the Quincy home is ongoing. A 33rd resident at LaSalle died this week after testing positive for COVID-19, meaning more than a quarter of the residents in the home since the outbreak was first reported on Nov. 1 have died. There have been two COVID deaths at Quincy.
No new residents at the LaSalle home have tested positive for the virus for more than a week, but 38 residents of the facility’s current 93 are still actively fighting the virus, with five in the hospital, according to Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs spokeswoman Bridget Dooley. Three staff members are currently positive of the 99 who have tested positive since the outbreak began.
At the Quincy home, 32 residents are currently positive with the virus — with three of them hospitalized — of the facility’s current census count of 293 residents. Twenty-two staff members are currently positive.
The LaSalle home’s administrator was fired on Monday, and the director of nursing at the facility was also placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the outbreak. The personnel moves came weeks after site visits from the Illinois Department of Public Health and U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs found shortcomings in safety protocols.
But Pritzker this week defended the timing of his decision.
“We wanted to make changes as quickly as possible to put the best people in the right places because all we want is to keep these heroes safe,” Pritzker said.
When NPR Illinois asked Pritzker at his daily COVID-19 news conference Tuesday about plans to send in the National Guard to the LaSalle facility, the governor sidestepped the question.
“I don’t know where you get your rumors from,” Pritzker said.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Pritzker made former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s handling of outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease at the Quincy facility a central theme of his campaign. The outbreaks killed 14 residents and sickened dozens more residents and staff. Earlier this year, the state agreed to pay a $6.4 million settlement to the families of the deceased.