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Missouri Veterans Commission Chairman Reflects On COVID-Related Failures, Next Steps

Tim Noonan
A facility in Cameron, Missouri, located in the northwest part of the state, is one of seven homes overseen by the Missouri Veterans Commission and hit hard by COVID-19.

As chairman of the nine-member Missouri Veterans Commission, Tim Noonan serves in a volunteer capacity. But in the year 2020, the job has proved to be a particularly intense one — and in recent weeks it’s been filled with tragedy.

Last month, the St. Louis-based law firm Armstrong Teasdale released a summary of an independent investigation it prepared for the commission, which oversees seven long-term care facilities for veterans in the state. Those homes suffered “a prolonged and rapidly escalating outbreak of COVID-19” beginning in September, according to the report.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Noonan, a veteran himself, told St. Louis on the Air about the detailed pandemic-related failures of the facilities he helps oversee. “I can’t doubleclick too far [into the report] without losing my composure. … These veterans are our friends.”

The report identifies multiple issues in the homes’ overall COVID-19 response and specific protocols, also pointing to MVC leaders’ “false sense of security” and failure to capitalize on “early successes,” as the Riverfront Times highlighted last week.

Noonan, who has been driving around Missouri this week visiting each of the seven homes the commission oversees, said he and his colleagues are taking the information and recommendations from the investigation and developing an action plan.

On Thursday’s show, Noonan joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about what happened and how he hopes to move forward. He noted that early on, when the pandemic first started hitting the U.S. hard, the commission put a detailed plan in place for the facilities under its oversight.

“We anticipated being hit very hard … we put quarantine in place, we inspected, we trained — I inspected those sites personally,” Noonan said.

But after months of successfully holding the coronavirus at bay, things took a devastating turn. By November, 103 residents were dead. That number has now grown to 142 COVID-19 deaths.

“We did a tremendous job … until it really overwhelmed us,” the chairman explained.

He grew audibly emotional as he discussed the tragedy, the lessons and the MVC’s commitment to the veterans homes and their residents going forward.

“For every family that’s lost a loved one, our heart just breaks,” Noonan said, his voice breaking. “Our heart also breaks for the front-line caregivers. They have been asked to shoulder a burden that is just incomprehensible.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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