By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
For those concerned about the spike in cases and 34 deaths at the LaSalle Veterans Home, the recent state-level investigations and cooperation with the feds is good news for the future care of our veterans. But the concentrated effort to find out what went wrong at the veterans’ home begs a broader question: Why aren’t state officials paying the same elevated attention to all Illinois retirement home deaths?
Wirepoints, WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune, among others, have been warning for months about the LTC crisis and the need to secure the homes. As we said in April, “When this crisis is finally over, we’ll look back at the failure to protect retirement homes as one of the bigger tragedies of COVID-19.” At the time we wrote that, there were just 625 retirement home deaths in Illinois.
Today, we’re at more than 7,500 retirement home deaths – the equivalent of 220 LaSalle Homes – and yet those outbreaks haven’t generated the same outrage or received the same attention from the state. No highly public investigations, no disclosure of failures and no high-level official has been held responsible. If you haven’t been following the issue, just look at the renewed spike in deaths.
Last week, two-thirds of all deaths from COVID in Illinois were tied to nursing homes, with LTCs experiencing a record 605 deaths. That was just two weeks after hitting a record 480 deaths. Overall, LTC deaths account for 50 percent of all COVID deaths in Illinois since the start of the pandemic.
Illinois officials should have figured out how to secure these homes after nine months. As we wrote earlier, it’s not like officials don’t know who the potential victims are or where they live. IDPH has the full list of every LTC home and its address posted on its website. With a massive, concentrated effort in financial and health resources, thousands of lives could have been spared.
The LaSalle Veterans Home story by itself is a failure. COVID spread rapidly after it entered the facility, infecting at least 108 of 121 residents and killing 34 of them at last count.
But the same story that’s played out at LaSalle has, in some form, played out across hundreds of other Illinois retirement facilities. So far, there have been 1,800 separate COVID outbreaks in LTC facilities across the state , with more than 250 outbreaks causing 10 or more deaths.*
When challenged in April as LTC deaths began to mount, Gov. Pritzker and state health officials signaled the state had the protocols in place, we wrote months ago. The governor said Illinois had “implemented strict measures” to protect nursing home residents and staff across the state.
Whatever those specific measures were, they failed as LTC deaths continued week after week. Throughout the summer, LTC deaths continued to make up 50 percent to 70 percent of all deaths most weeks.
Not only did the state fail to effectively protect retirement home residents from COVID, but it failed to protect them from neglect and abuse as well. According to an IDPH press release, its “Bureau of Long-Term Care was not properly processing and investigating complaints of abuse and neglect at long-term care facilities from approximately March 15 to June 30, 2020.”
The agency did announce a “top to bottom, independent review of its Bureau of Long-Term Care in the Office of Health Care Regulation” in response, but as far as we can tell the review was ineffective and the independent report was never made public.
Meanwhile, retirement homes deaths have continued to fluctuate between 30 and 50 percent of all deaths, only to spike back up to 63 percent of all deaths from Dec. 11 to Dec 18. A record 605 LTC residents died of COVID that week.
Illinois chose blanket closures and misguided attempts at controlling the virus, all the while failing to protect the most obvious targets of the virus.
Hopefully this nightmare for our most vulnerable will end soon after the vaccine is distributed, finally putting nursing home residents and their caregivers first.
Afterward, there must be reckoning among both private and public officials for the state’s failures. The same attention must be given to the rest of Illinois’ nursing homes as is being given to the LaSalle outbreak.
Read more about COVID in Illinois:
- As COVID Deaths Soar In Illinois Nursing Homes, Let’s Revisit Who ‘Threw Granny Under The Bus,’ And What Went With Her
- 25 times more Chicago youth have died from homicide than from COVID
- The right COVID policy for Illinois? Obsess about the elderly and infirm
- Illinois still fails its elderly, veterans as COVID deaths hit record highs
*Corrected 12/23. Language changed to reflect that there have been 1,800 separate outbreaks in LTC facilities, not that 1,800 individual facilities have suffered outbreaks.