Families sue in wake of COVID-19 deaths at Veterans Home in LaSalle

27 families have filed lawsuits after their loved ones died during a COVID-19 outbreak at the...
27 families have filed lawsuits after their loved ones died during a COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home in 2020.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 6:02 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - A COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 at the Illinois Veterans Home in LaSalle killed 36 veterans. Now, the families of 27 of those veterans have filed lawsuits against the State of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and staff at the LaSalle home.

These families argue the home didn’t have a comprehensive plan to respond to COVID-19 and that staff at the facility ignored basic safety protocols. Several family members spoke Tuesday morning during a news conference about the lawsuits.

An inspector general’s audit following the outbreak found more than 200 people tested positive at the home, including residents and staff. The report and lawsuits note that several nurses, nursing assistants and aides went to a Halloween party and continued to report to work with veterans even though they had tested positive for the virus.

“These men didn’t deserve to die alone,” said Lindsay Lamb, granddaughter of Korean War veteran Richard Cieski. “They were there to be taken care of. We put our family in their hands, and they failed us.”

The inspector general’s report also found staff failed to wear masks, take temperature checks before working or wash their hands properly. That audit says the response to the COVID-19 outbreak was “inefficient, reactive and chaotic.”

John Lundquist’s father Richard served in the Navy during the Korean War.

“It was not his time to go,” Lundquist said. “But for these circumstances, my father, we feel, had many years to give and live, and therefore share in times with his family.”

Some of the family members said they will never come to terms with the deaths of their loved ones, and the state must do more to protect veterans.

Beth Ouimet explained that her father George was full of wanderlust. The Navy veteran was 83 years old.

“We actually thought we were going to be moving him to Maine with us that next month. I just recently found out that they knew my father was COVID positive and didn’t tell us,” Ouimet said. “My point now is we’ve got to do better for our veterans. They could’ve done better, and they should’ve done better.”

Family members are also demanding accountability from Gov. J.B. Pritzker since he frequently criticized former Gov. Bruce Rauner for his response to the deadly Legionnaire’s outbreak at the Veterans’ Home in Quincy. Thirteen residents died and dozens were severely ill during that outbreak.

Pritzker press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said every life lost to coronavirus weighs on the hearts of the governor and members of his administration. She also noted that Pritzker implemented public health strategies such as mandatary masking and limits on indoor gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable in Illinois.

“The governor appealed to members of various communities who fought against proven mitigation strategies to think of their family, neighbors and friends that were susceptible to the worst outcomes of COVID, urging everyone to comply,” Abudayyeh said. “While IDVA was working to address the COVID outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home, the state conducted a thorough transparent review of the response to identify shortcomings, immediately take corrective actions and hold those who fell short accountable.”

Abudayyeh also said Pritzker appointed Terry Prince as the new director for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Prince became the acting IDVA director on April 1, 2021, after leading 850 employees in veterans’ homes across Ohio. The administration said Prince came in with years of medical experience in numerous roles over 30 years. He also worked quickly to put new policies and procedures in place to keep the residents healthy and safe.

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