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LaSalle Veterans' Home Administrator Fired After 25% Of Residents Died Of COVID

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The head of a central Illinois veterans' home, where 25% of the residents have died of COVID-19 this year, has been fired amid multiple investigations into the deadly outbreak.

The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs said LaSalle Veterans' Home Administrator Angela Mehlbrech has been terminated, and Acting Assistant Director Anthony Vaughn will serve as the interim administrator of the home as the department searches for a long-term replacement.

In addition, the facility's nursing director has been placed on leave, pending the results of an investigation led by the Acting Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Gov. JB Pritzker said 39 of 96 current residents at the home -- located about 100 miles southwest of Chicago -- had their most recent COVID-19 tests come back positive. Twenty-one staffers also had their most recent test come back positive.

The governor said 32 veterans who lived there have died of the virus so far this year.

"We will do everything possible to safeguard the lives of our heroes. Let us make no mistake: these tragic losses serve as a stark and painful example of what happens when community spread is rampant." Pritzker said.

In addition to the inspector general's probe, according to published reports two Illinois House committees have launched their own investigations into the outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans' Home.

Meantime, Pritzker said the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs is working with its federal counterpart to make sure all of the state's veterans' homes are in compliance with all health and safety guidelines.

The governor noted virus positivity rates in LaSalle County are much higher than the state average, and he said three other long-term care facilities in the county have had deadlier COVID outbreaks, but he said that's no excuse for the deadly outbreak at the veterans' home.

"Yes this virus preys on the elderly, and it looks for a carrier to bring it inside a home, even when significant efforts are made to follow mitigations, but it should never have been this bad," he said.

According to published reports, the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs last month found that hand sanitizer placed in residents' rooms and elsewhere at the home was not effective at killing the virus. Staffers also were seen without masks while at work, some infected residents' doors were left open, and some employees came to work after attending an off-site Halloween party and later testing positive for the virus.

Pritzker on Monday declined to discuss specifics of what went wrong at the home, pointing to the ongoing investigation.

"We need to make sure that we know exactly what happened. What I know is that our job right now is to make sure that we do everything to protect the people who are at the LaSalle Veterans' Home," he said.

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