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National Guard to be sent to veterans homes hit by coronavirus outbreaks

The National Guard is on the ground at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home — which has had 33 residents die from COVID-19 —and will be sent Monday to facilities in Quincy and Manteno, Pritzker said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing in March 2020.
The Illinois National Guard is heading to veterans homes in LaSalle, Quincy and Manteno that have been hit by coronavirus outbreaks, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Veterans homes dealing with coronavirus outbreaks will receive help from members of the Illinois National Guard, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday as his administration looks to curb a rise in cases at the long-term care facilities.

The Guard is on the ground at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home — which has had 33 residents die from the virus — and will be sent Monday to facilities in Quincy and Manteno, Pritzker said.

They will provide staff support for screening and handling testing data.

“… Here in Illinois, we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to safeguard our most vulnerable, especially those who lived to serve,” Pritzker said at his Thursday briefing on the coronavirus.

So far, 55 veterans at the Quincy home have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday — and a total of 125 residents and staff have recovered from the virus. At the Manteno home, 18 residents and 33 employees have tested positive for the virus since August, according to an update from the state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs dated Thursday.

Two residents at the Manteno facility have died from the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, Pritzker brushed off a question about the National Guard being sent to the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

But at Thursday’s briefing, he apologized for being dismissive and said he’d “directed every member of my administration to move quickly to respond with every available resource to assist [the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs], and [the] National Guard was asked to be of assistance before I was made aware.”

News of the Guard being sent to the homes was first reported by NPR Illinois.

The move follows the Monday firing of Angela Mehlbrech, who served as administrator of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home. As of Thursday, 38 of 93 residents have currently tested positive for the virus, along with three staff members, the governor said.

The state Department of Veterans’ Affairs said in a statement Monday the personnel change follows the announcement of an independent investigation into the outbreak at the home led by the acting inspector general of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

That investigation was launched after the release of two reports that detailed problems in the facility, including ineffective hand sanitizer, employees showing up for work after testing positive for the coronavirus and inadequate “hand hygiene” practiced by employees.

Asked if there was specific information that led to Mehlbrech’s firing, Pritzker said there have been “lots of pieces of information.”

“I think we’ve been actually very transparent about the things that we’ve learned so far,” Pritzker said. “There’s certainly more that we can learn, but what I want to do is make sure that we’re keeping the residents as safe as humanly possible, and if there were failures of management there … those are things of great concern to me. I want to make sure that we plug all of those holes and making sure that we have the right management help do that.”