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Vaccine coming to hard-hit Missouri veterans homes

Vaccine coming to hard-hit Missouri veterans homes

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Governor health care tour

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson meets with residents, staff and volunteers at the Missouri Veteran's Home in St. Louis on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Photo by Johanna Huckeba, jhuckeba@post-dispatch.com.

JEFFERSON CITY — Residents living in nursing homes managed by the embattled Missouri Veterans Commission are expected to be vaccinated within the next 10 days.

In their first meeting since a scathing report was released detailing problems with the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission learned that Gov. Mike Parson had intervened to bump up the schedule of when veterans will receive the shot.

Residents at the seven homes, including one in Bellefontaine Neighbors in north St. Louis County, would otherwise have had to wait until the end of the month for the vaccination.

Commissioner Jose Dominguez, a Springfield surgeon, said 90% of the veterans have signed up for vaccinations, while 50-60% of the staff are signed up.

Ryon Richmond, deputy director of the veterans commission, said his office is working to get more employees signed up for a vaccine.

Veterans service organizations, for example, have donated big screen TVs and cash to be used as an employee incentive program, Richmond said.

The update came 10 days after the release of an investigative report showed a jumbled response to the virus and how it may have contributed to the resident deaths at the homes.

It was only until after Commission Executive Director Paul Kirchhoff met with Gov. Mike Parson on Oct. 1 that rapid antigen tests were deployed to the homes, and veterans commission staff began receiving software upgrades and were asked to provide status updates to a state team monitoring the outbreak.

The veterans commission released the 415-page investigative report on New Year’s Eve, minutes before its chairman, Tim Noonan, announced his resignation. Noonan had refused to release the full report but said he relented following a directive from Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

A total of 158 veteran residents have died of complications of COVID-19 from Sept. 1 through Wednesday, Jan. 6, according to the Department of Public Safety. Parson ordered the outside investigation on Oct. 2.

The spread of the virus has subsided somewhat since residents began dying from the coronavirus in the late summer months.

Among the seven homes, there are 21 active staff cases and five active cases among veterans, all of them at the Mt. Vernon facility.

“It’s a much smaller outbreak that we have seen in the past,” Kirchhoff said.

The meeting got off to a rocky start when some members balked at electing Dr. John Buckner to replace Noonan as the chairman of the board because the action was not specified on the meeting agenda.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, who is a member of the commission, raised questions about whether there had been proper notice given to the public about the election of a new chairman.

“It wasn’t on my radar,” Schupp said. “I just think it’s important that we put out as much information as we can.”

Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, also called for a delay.

“I was just appointed to this commission yesterday. I had no clue I’d be voting on leadership. I haven’t had the ability to do my due diligence,” Brattin said.

Buckner did not push back on the concerns and said the vote could take place at the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 1.

“I’ve got no issue with that. It’s fine,” Buckner said.

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