By Bob Uphues
In a letter sent March 16, the heads of four suburban nonprofit assisted living facilities pleaded with Gov. J.B. Pritzker for more COVID-19 testing kits and personal protective equipment for workers.
Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living in North Riverside, was joined by John Larson , CEO Cantata Adult Life Services in Brookfield; Terri Bowen, CEO of King Bruweart House in Burr Ridge; and Jay Biere, CEO of Plymouth Place in LaGrange Park, calling the situation one of "extreme urgency."
"The best way to protect and ensure the health and safety of the people who live in long-term care is to protect and test the people who work in long-term care," Noble said in a phone interview with the Landmark.
While the nursing homes have all taken precautions to severely limit access to the facilities, increase efforts to disinfect high-touch areas and screen employees daily for any symptoms, the danger remains.
On March 17 during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic and the state's response to it, Pritzker did not promise that testing kits or equipment was on the way, saying the federal government is falling down in its duty to help one of the nation's most vulnerable populations.
"We have been on the phone day and night with the medical testing supply chain," said Pritzker, "but the federal government is monopolizing supplies and not providing them to the states.
"They set deadlines and they blow through them. They told us capacity would increase, and it hasn't."
Noble said that Caledonia Senior Living has been able to find a supply of personal protective equipment for workers through the son of a woman who teachers Highland Dance for Chicago Scots, the charity that operates Caledonia. The woman called Noble and asked if wanted to speak with her son.
"I told her, 'Frances, you are an angel,'" Noble said.
The supplies are likely coming through a European vendor, since U.S. suppliers are out of much protective equipment.
Noble said the letter resulted from frustration at not being able to access critical means of keeping residents and staff safe.
"For what it's worth, we're trying to use our voice as much as we can," Noble said.
It's not an overreaction. On Tuesday, Pritzker also announced that 22 people – residents and four staff – at a DuPage County nursing home had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Illinois Department of Health tested the entire population of the facility after one resident was confirmed positive on March 14. Those patients and staff are now in isolation, Pritzker said.
"I've requested, and now I'm demanding, that the White House, the FDA and the CDC produce a rapid increase in test deployment nationwide or get out of the way and allow us to obtain them elsewhere ourselves."