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Head of LaSalle Veterans’ Home out after COVID-19 outbreak

Coronavirus cases at the home, which is about 95 miles southwest of Chicago, have ballooned over the course of the last month, and 32 residents have died. 

LaSalle Veterans’ Home in LaSalle, Illinois.
LaSalle Veterans’ Home in LaSalle, Illinois.
www2.illinois.gov

The administrator of a downstate veterans’ home where 32 residents have died of the coronavirus was fired Monday, following investigations into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the state-run home.

Angela Mehlbrech, the administrator of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, was fired after the release of two reports that detailed problems in the home, including ineffective hand sanitizer, employees showing up for work after testing positive for the coronavirus and inadequate “hand hygiene” practiced by employees.

The state Department of Veterans’ Affairs said in a statement 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.

Acting Assistant Director Anthony Vaughn will serve as the interim administrator as the department searches for a permanent replacement.

At his coronavirus briefing Monday, Pritzker discussed the situation at the home and announced Vaughn’s interim position, but he made no specific mention of Mehlbrech.

“Yes, this virus preys on the elderly, and it looks for a carrier to bring it inside a home even when significant efforts are made to follow mitigations, but it should never have been this bad,” Pritzker said. “The worst case scenario that I have tried every day to prevent is now our reality in LaSalle.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a coronavirus briefing in November.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a coronavirus briefing last month.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Cases at the home, which is about 95 miles southwest of Chicago, have ballooned over the course of the last month, and 32 residents have died, Pritzker said.

As of Monday morning, 39 of the 96 residents had tested positive on their most recent COVID-19 test, in addition to 21 staffers, Pritzker said.

As of Sunday, the home had seen a total of 108 positive residents and 97 positive employees, according to a veterans’ affairs department release. As of that report, 37 residents and 81 staff had recovered from the virus. No staff deaths have been reported.

After facing criticism and questions about the handling of the outbreak at the home, Pritzker and state veterans officials launched an investigation into the circumstances around the spread of the deadly virus at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home late last month.

That investigation into the actions of leadership and staff will continue, Pritzker said.

State Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, who chairs the House’s civil judiciary committee, also launched an investigation into the outbreak last week.