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Deputy governor says IDVA kept information from her and lied about LaSalle

Friday, May 14, 2021

* Hannah Meisel

In the months before the state-run veterans’ home in LaSalle saw a massive COVID-19 outbreak that eventually killed more than a quarter of the facility’s residents, leaders at the state agency that oversees the home obscured its inner workings from Gov. JB Pritzker’s office, a top Pritzker staffer told lawmakers on Thursday.

Thirty-six residents at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home eventually died after testing positive for COVID in an outbreak that began in early November and spread to more than 100 residents and more than 100 staff members. A damning inspector general’s report on the outbreak released late last month faulted absentee leadership, lack of preparedness, lax COVID protocols and poor communication as contributing factors for the crisis at the home.

In an appearance in front of the Illinois House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Thursday, Deputy Gov. Sol Flores painted the state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs as a sort of black box, repeatedly telling lawmakers she believed what top officials at the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs was telling her in the months leading up to the LaSalle outbreak. […]

“It’s not just grief; I also share your rage at the loss of life that occurred at LaSalle,” Flores said. “What I was told was happening there is a far cry from the circumstances set forth in the [inspector general]’s report.”

* Rick Pearson

Mazzochi also noted that on Nov. 11, Pritzker appeared at a ribbon-cutting for a new veterans home in Chicago where he touted the success of the agency in combating COVID-19 in veterans homes despite what was happening at LaSalle.

“We’ve worked very hard. Our veterans homes really have done an outstanding job of keeping our veterans safe. But you can’t 100% keep everybody safe in this environment” when local officials aren’t enforcing mitigations, Pritzker said at the ribbon-cutting.

That was a day before the state public health department and the federal Veterans Affairs sent an on-site team to LaSalle, where they found lapses in protocols and the use of non-alcohol based hand sanitizer as well as staff congregating without masks.

By Nov. 9, two days before Pritzker’s statement, the home had more than 60 positive cases, and by Nov. 13, two days after his statement, 10 veterans had died.

“How could you let him make that statement with a straight face … given the nature of the briefing that you gave him internally on Nov. 9?” Mazzochi asked after Flores said she briefed Pritzker of the intensifying outbreak.

“We didn’t understand the full scope of what was happening until after Nov. 10,” Flores replied.

But she also said Pritzker had ordered the public health agency be “immediately” deployed to LaSalle on Nov. 9. They arrived three days later.

Oof.

The TV ads write themselves.

Ironically enough, Gov. Rauner did a public event with his own IDVA director at the beginning of the Quincy Legionnaires’ outbreak. That came back to haunt him, too.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments
  1. - I’ve heard it all - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 8:32 am:

    Sol Flores should put her resignation in immediately. What an incredibly weak defense that reads as revisionist history. Isn’t she also in charge of DCFS and their messes? Send her packing.


  2. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 8:35 am:

    ===Ironically enough, Gov. Rauner did a public event with his own IDVA director at the beginning of the Quincy Legionnaires’ outbreak. That came back to haunt him, too.===

    Governors own.

    The partisan sniping by Raunerites now while trying to help Rauner weather the deaths at Quincy are mind-blowingly terrible.

    === But you can’t 100% keep everybody safe in this environment” when local officials aren’t enforcing mitigations, Pritzker said at the ribbon-cutting.

    That was a day before the state public health department and the federal Veterans Affairs sent an on-site team to LaSalle, where they found lapses in protocols and the use of non-alcohol based hand sanitizer as well as staff congregating without masks.===

    This is… wow. Wow as in terrible-awful wow.


  3. - SpiDem - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 8:41 am:

    It is truly amazing how eagerly they are now throwing Chapa LaVia under the bus now when it took weeks of everyone demanding her head before they let her submit her resignation. She should have been fired long before.


  4. - Citizen Kane - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 8:49 am:

    There was way too much deflecting going on by the Deputy Governor. She saw all the warning signs, by her own testimony, but didn’t follow up on making sure everything she was being told was true. Unfortunately, she needs to resign - I just don’t see how she can stay dropping the ball on several items.


  5. - Miso - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 9:07 am:

    Chapa LaVia and Flores will get crucified when the subpoenas come. They won’t be able to dodge when a competent attorney slaps them around in their depositions. Anyone tell them, that’s coming?

    Prior inconsistent statements have destroyed many, many people who dodged like the Dep. Gov did yesterday.


  6. - Gin and politics - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 9:46 am:

    ==Isn’t she also in charge of DCFS and their messes?==

    You beat me to it.

    I wonder what information DCFS is keeping from her, too.


  7. - Pizza Man - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 9:46 am:

    This a weak defense by the dep. Gov, Sol Flores. Your main job or goal is to oversee agency heads, period. (with other administrative duties).

    If she saw ‘cracks’ in the ceiling, she should have immediately get off her leather chair, at the beginning of the leaks per see.
    She should have demanded answers from then-VA ‘director’ and not–what most likely occurred–receive updates from the CoS.

    She should resign especially when sadly deaths have occurred; our veterans.


  8. - NIU Grad - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 10:03 am:

    “Pritzker had ordered the public health agency be “immediately” deployed to LaSalle on Nov. 9. They arrived three days later.”

    How is the Governor not furious about this? It took his team three days to follow through on his order, and lives were lost in the meantime. I just don’t understand the disconnect between this Governor’s Office and the critical issues being faced by their agencies.


  9. - ;) - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 10:23 am:

    This hearing was brutal. Sol Flores should’ve/should be terminated. She was absolutely awful yesterday and she clearly is devoid of any judgement or leadership abilities.


  10. - Nick R Bocker - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 10:24 am:

    If Mazzochi and Durkin don’t demand the immediate release of all communications regarding COVID and the homes between Flores and Chapa LaVia, between Flores and Kolbeck, I’ll be shocked.

    They are gonna want to see for themselves the questions that Flores asked and IDVA refused to answer, creating a “black box.”


  11. - Nick R Bocker - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 10:32 am:

    ==Isn’t she also in charge of DCFS and their messes?==

    She is also over DHS, whose inspector general did not implicate her in its investigation, and gave a pass to IDPH, another agency Flores oversees I believe.

    It’s a pretty convenient compartmentalization.


  12. - Rasselas - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 10:42 am:

    For decades, IDVA has succeeded in escaping the same oversight from IDPH that other nursing homes are subject to. Sometimes by enlisting the Governor’s Office (looking at you, Ryan, Blago and Quinn) and sometimes by tweaking legislation and rules. The chickens have come home to roost.


  13. - 2Long - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 10:44 am:

    Flores was totally unprepared for the hearing, makes you wonder how unprepared she is for the job which should be the hard part.


  14. - Responsa - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 11:00 am:

    Putting people in an important professional position mainly as a political reward or to “check a box” is often found to be a mistake when real leadership is needed there during a crisis. I have rarely read an article that is more immediately disturbing than Hannah’s, which covered the testimony and sad new details ofsystemic incompetence exposed in the La Salle hearing.


  15. - Pizza Man - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 11:07 am:

    In her previous job as founding executive director of La Casa Norte, a Humboldt Park social services nonprofit that advocates for the homeless, she managed a staff of 80 employees..

    She should resign and possibly return to her non-profit arena. A lack of leadership, communication, and proactiveness from the governor’s level to VA “director” and its CoS.

    The first scapegoat was the home administrator but the buck didn’t have to end with her.


  16. - Almost the weekend - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 11:14 am:

    Going back to the Sullivan resignation there’s clearly two standards set in this administration. The hesitancy by Pritzker to hold LaVia and Flores accountable is clearly political and there’s no other way to spin it. Especially considering the Quincy debacle under Rauner. The state needs to get out of the business of caring for veterans. Because when it comes down to doing the right thing. Politics are calibrated in the decision making and never should be for this agency. Dems and Repubs are guilty of this.


  17. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 11:28 am:

    === Going back to the Sullivan resignation there’s clearly two standards set in this administration.===

    Personnel *is* policy.

    How you treat personnel too, sometimes differently, is also politics and policy colliding.


  18. - Cool Papa Bell - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 11:56 am:

    To Sullivan - He was actually a really good administrator who got caught up in politics…

    LaVia/Flores seem to be terrible administrators who kept jobs while caught up in politics…

    The “business” is infuriating.


  19. - High Socks - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 12:31 pm:

    Sol Flores has the quite the reverse Midas touch. Resign.


  20. - FormerParatrooper - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 12:42 pm:

    When politics are involved,and not leadership you have failings. In this case failings caused people to die.

    Gov please clean house. Once this house is cleaned start looking at the other houses for the same issues and clean them up. Regardless of who the victims are, no 9ne deserves to die or become ill because of political decisions and attempts to sugar coat reality. Learn from your predecessors mistake.


  21. - Annonin' - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 12:47 pm:

    “I’m not smart enough to understand”… Opps that was supposed to go….or maybe not. After dodging any blame in the special report the dG appears to jumped back into the exit lane.


  22. - Jibba - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 1:07 pm:

    Another example of JB needing to learn on the job faster. I’d have fired everyone from Flores on down. He needs to toughen up.


  23. - Now I’m down in it. - Friday, May 14, 21 @ 2:25 pm:

    How does it make sense to hire someone who managed 80 employees to oversee all the monster huge state agencies? Sol Flores has to go.


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