Sometimes, there’s no good reason to resist the release of public information, other than an organization’s penchant for secrecy.
It turns out the Missouri Veterans Commission had plenty of reasons keep a lock on a full investigative report into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. They weren’t particularly good reasons — not for taxpayers and certainly not for veterans and their families — but the deeply troubling findings in this report show why those who run this state agency tried so hard to keep it from public view.
No wonder Veterans Commission Chairman Tim Noonan refused to release the full text until Attorney General Eric Schmitt directed him to do so. No wonder the public was treated to a 415-page information dump on New Year’s Eve.
Noonan resigned after receiving criticism from the governor, who had ordered the investigation in October. Rather than apologize for a tragic series of missteps, the commission chairman continued to bemoan the unfairness of it all.
“Releasing the closed record ... will do nothing but harm the MVC,” Noonan, a St. Louis businessman who was appointed by former Gov. Eric Greitens, told media outlets.
The families of veterans won’t have to look far to see the real examples of harm.
The report makes it clear that the commission’s leadership did not act quickly enough to contain COVID-19, which claimed more than 140 lives in seven nursing homes for veterans since September. The investigation, compiled by the St. Louis law firm Armstrong Teasdale, cited a failure to quarantine staff and patients awaiting test results, a lack of formal infection control policies and a failure by top staff to prepare for a prolonged outbreak.
This report makes for painful reading, but its was necessary for the public to gain a better understanding of what went wrong at these homes, including one in Cameron, and demand accountability and change.
We know that COVID-19 has hit nursing homes and the elderly population extremely hard, a reality that should be at the forefront of developing plans for responding to the pandemic. Hiding behind patient confidentiality, as many health providers and nursing homes are prone to do, makes it easier for them to sweep problems under the rug without the public ever being any wiser.
Thanks to Schmitt and state Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis-area Democrat who pushed for the release of this report, we now have a better idea of what needs to be fixed.
The Missouri Legislature, which begins its regular session this week, should use this report to ensure that the state lives up to its promises to provide the best possible care to veterans at these facilities.