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Coronavirus-local
Manteno Veterans’ Home eases into new normal

MANTENO — The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and its veterans’ homes have focused on resuming aspects of the facilities’ normal operations with updated protocols in 2021 after the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 created outbreaks in some state facilities.

After a May 2020 outbreak at the Manteno Veterans’ Home where 48 veterans and 33 staff members tested positive for the virus and 15 veterans died of COVID-19, according to a report from the Office of Inspector General, infection control continues to be essential to the facility.

Fighting COVID

Four long-term, skilled nursing home facilities for eligible veterans in Anna, Quincy, Manteno and La Salle are operated under IDVA, with another facility planned to open in Chicago. These facilities are licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health and certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 81 cases of COVID-19 among residents at the Manteno location, with 62 recoveries and 19 deaths, according to Manteno Veterans’ Home administrator Tanya Smith’s most recent public notification on Dec. 9.

Three employees and zero residents have developed COVID since Dec. 2. There have been 115 cases and zero deaths among employees due to COVID since the pandemic began.

When coronavirus was reported in December 2019, the Manteno administration monitored it and began developing a preliminary plan that was used when cases were first identified locally in March 2020, Smith said.

The mitigations included limiting volunteers and visitors, containing staff to working in specific areas and implementing social distancing during dining, said Anthony Vaughn, the acting assistant director of IDVA.

“We’re very fortunate in the layout of the Manteno home, which has separate buildings which we will be able to limit staff to,” Vaughn said. “I like to say that we took a very conservative approach when it comes to visitation and people in and out of the building.”

The outbreak at Manteno started around Mother’s Day 2020 when a resident was identified as COVID positive.

“So the minute that we were notified of that, we immediately tested all residents and staff,” Smith said. “We notified all of our families. And we began all of the mitigation measures that we could.”

Statewide concerns

The Manteno outbreak occurred prior to the institution of some of the state’s COVID mandates and the IDVA facilities’ most severe outbreak at LaSalle Veterans’ Home in November 2020.

“There was never a time that we didn’t take this seriously,” Smith said. “I think what it did was, you know, challenge us to learn more about how we could take better care of patients. It requires us to work through our grief. I mean, these aren’t just our patients. These residents have, many of them have lived here for a very long time.”

After 36 veterans were reported to have died due to COVID at La Salle, Gov. JB Pritzker called for the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the facility’s operation. The IG’s report, released in April 2021, criticized IDVA for a lack of a unified COVID-19 plan for the facilities, even after the Manteno outbreak, and failures in communication between IDVA leadership and home administration.

IDVA Director Linda Chapa LaVia resigned in January 2021 and the governor appointed Terry Prince, then the superintendent of Ohio Veterans Homes, to be acting director starting April 1, 2021. To improve the department, Prince created a six-point plan that included standardizing policies, restructuring senior leadership and prioritizing infection control.

“Like all veterans homes and nursing homes across the country, we learned a lot of lessons early on, and we’ve taken that expertise and put it into play at all of our homes here,” Prince said.

New air-pressure units have been added to the facilities, including two full negative pressure units, which trap internal air and prevent it from being circulated outside, at the Manteno home.

Nine veterans have died of COVID in the facilities since there has been access to the vaccine, according to IDVA.

“Our 105-year-old resident who lives here was one of our first cases during the pandemic and they recovered,” Smith said.

Vaccinations

In early January 2021, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that 40 percent of all veterans’ home staff chose to receive a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 74 percent of residents.

“Veterans were the first ones to line up, raise their hand to get their vaccine,” Prince said.

Eighteen percent of Manteno’s staff — the lowest percentage of the four facilities — was vaccinated at the time.

“The vaccine hesitancy was the same in our building as it is throughout the state,” Smith said. “And so it is a matter of education, reinforcement and education.”

In addition to providing written education and making leadership available in public and private for questions about the vaccine, Smith said the facility keeps the vaccine in stock. If an employee wants to get vaccinated and the home is out of supply, she said the administration makes a vaccination appointment elsewhere for that day and gives the worker paid time-off to receive the shot, something that’s also applicable if they suffer from side effects.

“So we didn’t give them time to second guess if they wanted to get vaccinated,” she said.

The Department of Veteran Affairs started a vaccine requirement for nursing home staff on Oct. 26, when 82.7 percent of Manteno staff was fully vaccinated. In early December, IDVA reported that 100 percent of residents and 90 percent of staff are vaccinated at Manteno. IDVA now is the leader of the state agencies in vaccinations, Prince said.

“It has worked slowly, certainly not at the pace we would have wanted it, but the end result is good and we’re proud of that,” Smith said.

Boosters are also being offered on-site as employees and residents become eligible.

Staffing and occupancy

The Manteno facility currently houses 171 veterans on its 122-acre campus, though it has the capacity for 304 veterans. Its census was higher pre-COVD, Smith said, and dropped as low as 144 in March 2021.

It currently employs 286 people, which meets the required hours of care by IDPH and the federal VA, according to IDVA.

“That has been the blessing for our facility is the dedication that the staff has toward the residents,” Smith said.

The state’s veterans’ homes are not immune from the “Great Resignation” of health workers, Prince said, but IDVA is working to recruit workers so they can have more positions filled.

“We do have to be cautious about how many residents we admit at a specific time and we do it based on a staffing model of how many we need to support to make sure that the resident gets what they need,” Prince said. “But also with the understanding that if we have residents that go into the COVID protocol, we literally have to take a number of staff out who would normally be serving 10 to 15 residents, who now might be serving one resident for 10 to 14 days.”

Life, visiting and volunteering

With the limitations of safety protocols, residents were encouraged to stay in their rooms.

“They’ve become as frustrated as we have often,” Smith said. “They are used to a much more vibrant and active community within this home than they were able to have during the pandemic.”

Group activities within each living unit have continued, Smith said, and more craft activities have been offered.

Visitors were restricted at the Manteno home during early coronavirus phases, so staff made use of iPads and iPhones for video visits, Smith said. Outdoor visits were allowed in summer 2020, and so later were scheduled indoor visits in spring 2021 with a limit of two people.

Following IDPH and CDC guidelines, Manteno is moving toward open visitation, which still requires guests to wear face coverings. Smith said the home is getting stickers visitors can wear to show they have been screened as they move about the home.

“They can have visitors in their room, they can have visitors in common areas as well,” Smith said.

Letters written through Operation Rising Spirit and donations have continued to show the community’s care of the veterans at Manteno, Prince said, and he hopes new improvements to the facility shows IDVA’s support.

“We’re looking at food contracts, we’ve got a new roof going on and we’re doing constant improvement to show our veterans and our staff that we’re committed to the Manteno home and committed to the community,” Prince said.

The Manteno home is now bringing back vaccinated volunteers in units that work with a specific group of residents. Volunteers are tested at the veterans’ home on a routine basis, Smith said.

It welcomed outside visitors and volunteers Wednesday for its first event, an eighth-grade student’s blanket donation and coffee hour, since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We had to make sure we had enough space to social distance, we offered testing to people, but this is going to be the new normal,” Smith said.


Local
City awards $1.45M in federal COVID funds

KANKAKEE — A total of $1.45 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds were awarded to three Kankakee organizations or departments at Monday’s Kankakee City Council meeting.

In total, the council has now awarded about 33 percent of its federal COVID relief funds.

The city council awarded $750,000 to the Kankakee Public Service Program to allow funding, public aid and assistance to nonprofit organizations in Kankakee. The money is targeted to help city residents who have been impacted by the pandemic.

The council also approved a $350,000 award to its Environmental Services Utility department to improve city services. Another $350,000 was awarded for operational software for city departments.

The city was awarded $15,052,449 from the U.S. Treasury to distribute to businesses, organizations and governments impacted by the pandemic.

The city previously allocated $1.59 million to itself for lost revenues associated with the pandemic. Another $650,000 went to ESU to make up for lost revenues.

The city also earmarked $500,000 for rental rehabilitation, $350,000 for job training programs in conjunction with Kankakee Community College, and $500,000 to the city’s Community and Development Agency for grant administration and program development.

The city council through its discussions and meetings with its Committee of the Whole, has now awarded $5.04 million of the $15.05 million.


Local
Chocolate Tour makes a sweet return in Bourbonnais

BOURBONNAIS — Following a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Chocolate Tour will return to Bourbonnais in 2022.

Co-hosted by the village and Bourbonnais Township Park District, in conjunction with title sponsor Sweet Street, the tour is set for noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 5, 2022, according to a news release.

Tickets will go on sale at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, online at btpd.org and in person at the Bourbonnais Township Park District Perry Farm Farmhouse, 459 N. Kennedy Drive, and the Village of Bourbonnais Administration Building, 600 Main St. NW.

Only 350 tickets will be made available. They each cost $30.

The previous four tours sold out.

“After months of review and gathering input from Village of Bourbonnais businesses, the overall response was extremely welcoming of the Chocolate Tour returning,” Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said in the release.

“There may be some slight modifications, but the event will continue to connect residents and visitors with the wonderful businesses here in the village for an afternoon of fun.”

The event will be structured similarly to previous years: Participants will embark on an afternoon tour indulging at 35 business stops within Bourbonnais. All will receive a tour map for their decadent journey; a passport to receive a stamp at each destination visited; and a bag to tote along sweet treats.

A completed passport may be entered to win the Chocolate Tour grand prize, courtesy of Andaul Jewelers in Bourbonnais, and the runner-up grand prize, courtesy of the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival.

“This fun event will satisfy your sweet tooth,” BTPD Executive Director Hollice Clark said in the release.

“Chocolate Tour helps the park district support many programs, and we appreciate the partnership with the Village of Bourbonnais,” he said. “You may drive by some of our businesses but never stop in, but Chocolate Tour motivates you to go into these stores and businesses.”

Proceeds from the event will benefit Robert Latham Community Room renovations and support new programs for children and family-focused events at Perry Farm Park.

Proceeds from previous tours have benefitted the Event and Skate Plaza, Children’s Safety Center, the 1837 Log Schoolhouse Restoration Project and free events for the public.

Tour stops are currently full, however, businesses and organizations may continue to support the event via raffle basket donations. Interested parties may contact Lindy Casey at caseyl@villageofbourbonnais.com or 815-937-3570. You may also contact Cherie Smolkovich at cheries@btpd.org or 815- 933-9905.


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