Illinois Veterans' Affairs Director Resigns Amid Criticism Over COVID-19 Outbreak
A total of 36 residents at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home have died since the fall from the coronavirus disease, placing a spotlight on how the facility handled health and safety protocols. Just hours after being grilled at a state legislative hearing on the matter Monday, the agency’s director, Linda Chapa LaVia, stepped down with an announcement made in a news release from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Administration.
"What we want to do is restore trust," the governor said later when speaking to reporters. He said he spoke with Chapa LaVia and her leaving the job was a "mutual decision."
The death count at LaSalle is more than one quarter of the home’s total population. The first occurred on November 11, Veteran’s Day. Ninety percent of those who live there have been diagnosed with the disease, although the outbreak appears to be under control now.
Previous reports have indicated the home was using hand sanitizer that was ineffective against the virus and some staff failed to wear masks and social distance from one another in certain areas. Several changes at the home have been announced since.
Lawmakers have grown increasingly impatient with Chapa LaVia and the agency, with bipartisan calls for her to resign or be fired. Gov. Pritzker kept Chapa LaVia in the role, often placing much of the blame for the outbreak on community spread.
Last month, the LaSalle Administrator Angela Mehlbrech was fired and the head of nursing was placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.
Pritzker has tapped Major General Peter Nezamis, an Assistant Adjutant General with the Illinois Air National Guard to serve as interim director for the agency. He said a national search will be done for a permanent director.
“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our freedom and this administration will continue to do everything possible to prioritize their care,” the governor said.
Chapa LaVia is a former Illinois State Representative from Aurora who was a member of the Illinois Army National Guard. She was appointed to the IDVA position in 2019.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve our veterans,” she said in a written statement. “I’m proud of our accomplishments and I look forward to assisting the interim director in any way possible as the department continues its work to serve our heroes.”
A total of 17 residents at the Quincy Veterans’ Home have also died from the coronavirus disease.