by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia is resigning, in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed at least 36 veterans living at a state-run facility in LaSalle.

Lavia, an Army National Guard veteran and former state lawmaker from Aurora, is stepping down little more than a month after LaSalle Veterans’ Home Administrator Angela Mehlbrech was fired and the facility’s nursing director was placed on leave, pending the results of an investigation led by the Acting Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

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Gov. JB Pritzker said it was a “mutual decision” for LaVia to resign.

“What we want to do is restore confidence that people have in our Veterans Affairs Department, and we want to do our best to take care of our veterans,” Pritzker said.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of Monday, there have been 209 coronavirus cases at the Illinois Veterans Home in LaSalle, including 36 deaths.

Outbreaks at the Manteno veterans home have resulted in another 21 deaths, and 17 more deaths have been reported at the Quincy veterans home, according to data on the IDPH website.

In addition to the inspector general’s probe of the outbreak at the LaSalle veterans’ home, at least two Illinois House committees and one Illinois Senate committee have launched their own investigations, according to published reports.

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Illinois State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), whose district is home to the LaSalle veterans’ facility, said Chapa LaVia’s resignation “was an inevitable and necessary step in bringing accountability to one of the deadliest outbreaks at a state-run facility in Illinois history.”

“Since the beginning of this fatal outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home on November 1, it’s become apparent that the leadership within the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs has failed the residents it was tasked with protecting,” Rezin said in a statement.

“While I can respect the former-director’s decision to resign, I question why the decision to leave the department was left in her hands. The Governor should have removed the director from leadership long before today,” she added. “There are still several unanswered questions about procedures and decisions related to the handling of this outbreak. The Governor, IDPH and IDVA have the responsibility to provide those answers to the people of Illinois and the families that have suffered from their inaction.”

According to published reports, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs in November 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 repeatedly has declined to discuss the specifics of what went wrong to cause such a deadly outbreak at the LaSalle facility, citing the ongoing investigations.

With LaVia’s resignation, Maj. Gen. Peter Nezamis, assistant adjutant general of the Illinois Air National Guard, will take over as interim director of IDVA.

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