LASALLE, Ill. (WLS) -- The Illinois Veterans Home in LaSalle affected by COVID-19 deaths was the focus of a virtual hearing by Illinois lawmakers Tuesday.
Long term care facilities, including the LaSalle home, account for more than half of Illinois' COVID-19 deaths. Those numbers continue to grow during the second surge.
According to Illinois Department of Veterans, 27 veterans who lived at the home have died from the virus. It was hardly impacted by COVID-19 for months since the pandemic began in spring, but two-thirds of the residents and employees tested positive since the beginning of Nov.
Members of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee demanded answers for the drastic rise in cases at the LaSalle home.
"What we've seen LaSalle's veterans home is heartbreaking," said State Senator Tom Cullerton, Villa Park.
Numerous investigations of the facility have already been underway from Governor Pritzker's office and the Department of Veterans' Affairs in order to find answers about what may have caused the outbreak.
"We need to try to figure out what happened here whether there was potentially a protocol breakdown on the site or whether there is something that we're just missing," said State Senator Paul Schimpf, Waterloo.
The committee has been looking into safety measures such as whether the facility has had enough PPE on hand for staff and visitors. Additionally, it is looking at how thoroughly visitors and employees are screened.
Investigators have been assured from the veterans' and health departments that they are now testing residents and employees daily.
Senator Sue Rezin of North Central Illinois, 38th district, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon regarding the LaSalle facility located in her district.
"The tragedy of what has unfolded at the veterans' home cannot be understated. I'm glad that the director has called for an independent investigation and agree that there are lesson to be learned from this terrible outbreak that has claimed the lives of 27 of our nation's heroes," Sen. Rezin said.
Sen. Rezin demanded answers to the growing number of deaths at the veterans home.
"November 4th, there were only four cases of COVID within the home," Rezin said Monday. "Very quickly within the past 20 days, we've had almost 200 cases."
Sen. Rezin called on the department to do a transparent and thorough investigation Monday after getting reports of health protocol breakdowns.
"I'm hearing about breakdowns where people are actually in place are testing positive for COVID, but they're forced to work, go to work in the home," Rezin said. "I even heard the stories of people walking around who have tested positive for COVID that are not wearing masks."
Family members of residents and state leaders also worried about ongoing compassionate care visits that are being done on a case-by-case visit for those most sick.
"We certainly don't want them to be alone, but we also don't want to risk more community spread considering that this outbreak is so massive," said State Representative Stephanie Kifowit, chairperson for the Illinois House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Governor JB Pritzker said the state sent an infection control team to the Illinois Veteran's Home.
"When there is massive, widespread community spread, you just, there's no way to keep it out of every facility," Pritzker said.
The Illinois Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee will meet Tuesday virtually to talk about the COVID-19 crises at the LaSalle home.
"We need answers and we need answers today," Rezin said.
Veterans Affairs said it was committed to communicating with the residents, families and staff of the veterans home in a responsible and transparent manner regarding COVID-19.
"Since our last COVID-19 update there have been three additional cases at our home. Since the beginning of the crisis we have had a total of 96 positive residents and 93 positive employees," administrator Angela Mehlbrech said in a statement.
According to the statement on Nov. 17, the veterans home has been following recommendations from state and local health officials to safeguard everyone at the facility. The statement also emphasized the necessary protocols for visitors.