(The Center Square) – The Illinois Department of Public Health was in the hot seat Wednesday during a House committee hearing on nursing home reform.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities house a small part of the U.S. population, but are estimated to account for about 3 in 10 deaths from COVID-19. IDPH reported 46% of all deaths from COVID-19 in Illinois occurred in long-term care facilities.
Lawmakers had questions for IDPH representative Becky Dragoo, including the number of deaths in long-term care facilities during the pandemic, and the number of nursing homes that were cited by the state for a lack of protocols.
State Rep. Lakeshia Collins, D-Chicago, was not happy that Dragoo did not provide the number of deaths in Illinois nursing homes during the pandemic.
“If there’s no numbers that you can present to us when we get on these calls and you have to give us a follow-up, that’s a problem because you know we are going to ask these questions,” Collins said.
Collins said she believes a lack of staff is the cause of many problems in facilities. She said residents have been experiencing issues during the pandemic, but facilities aren’t reporting those issues to the state.
“The physical restraints, the dehydration, the bed sores, the workers injuries, all of that is related to one root cause and that is short staffing,” Collins said.
In August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order requiring health care workers, including in nursing homes, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He also signed into law legislation that addresses the lack of personal connection brought on by the pandemic by requiring long-term care facilities to ensure virtual communication is facilitated among residents and family during a public health emergency.
As for accountability by nursing home facilities, Dragoo said IDPH is aware of problem operations around the state.
“Our databases allow us to look at a nursing home all of their previous annual inspections, all of the complaint inspections to determine what deficiencies they have,” she said.
The agency has been criticized for the outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home, which killed 36 residents. A scathing Illinois Department of Human Services Inspector General report said a lack of COVID-19 plans and failures in leadership contributed to the deadly outbreak.
State Rep. Mary E. Flowers, D-Chicago, said officials at IDPH have played a role in the state’s long-term care facilities.
“You knew COVID was there and your agency didn’t do anything to isolate or protect those patients, and so they didn’t have a choice but to die,” Flowers said.