66% of staff in Illinois veterans’ homes vaccinated, but IDVA director hopes number improves by October

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Nearly all of the veterans in Illinois veterans’ homes are vaccinated. Although, only 66% of staff have received vaccines so far. All state employees in congregate care facilities must receive vaccines by October 4 under a mandate by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Terry Prince came to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs after 33 veterans died from complications with COVID-19 at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home. He quickly put new policies in place to keep veterans safe. Six months later, he hopes to see almost 100% of his staff vaccinated.

With little over a month left before the vaccine deadline for employees, there’s plenty of opportunities for staff to get vaccines. Acting Director Prince says the department frequently hosts shot clinics and physicians come in to answer questions. They also hold town hall discussions for staff.

Prince said IDVA created a lottery for employees interested interested in the vaccinations. His idea is similar to the state’s “All in for the Win” program. Prince also stressed that vaccines work and they’re the number one asset to defeating COVID-19.

“We want to make sure that our employees understand the requirement to get vaccinated and how important it is to protect our veterans who don’t have a choice,” Prince said.

Many veterans and their family members are upset that they can’t see their loved ones right now as facilities have cut off visits. Prince says vaccines will help open the doors again. However, most areas of the state have a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. The department obviously limits visits if there are outbreaks in any facility. Prince says home administrators and staff know visits are still a top priority.

“They’ve come up with all kinds of ways to utilize the resources we have to ensure that if we can’t see you in person, we’ve got iPads. If we can’t see you touching, we can put you in an outdoor setting,” Prince said.

A number of employees told administrators they won’t get the vaccine. Prince recognizes people have choices. However, he also noted it’s important to negotiate with the employee unions and make sure they know how important this is.

“The veterans have set an example for all of us. And I’m a fellow veteran,” said Prince. “It’s very important for them to see their families. I want them to have the same level of experience that I would expect.”

Prince said he doesn’t expect employees to leave because of the vaccine mandate, but the department has a hiring plan in place to make sure facilities aren’t understaffed. That includes bringing new people in and hiring other employees from private organizations if needed.

Once again, the vaccine deadline for employees in the homes is October 4. Prince says IDVA will continue to ramp up efforts to get more shots in arms. He also stressed that will help everyone get through the pandemic together.

“Some semblance of this is going to be around for a long time,” said Prince. “The more people that we can get vaccinated and the more that we can get to wear masks and practice proper hygiene, we can knock this thing down. We can really open up the opportunity for our men and women to get outside of the facility and do more things. They can return to some semblance of normal.”

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