Head of veterans commission resigns after COVID-19 report

Associated Press
The Rolla Daily News

JEFFERSON CITY — The chairman of the Missouri Veterans Commission resigned after releasing an investigative report that criticized the commission for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 140 lives at seven veteran nursing homes since September.

Tim Noonan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Thursday that he was resigning, citing comments Gov. Mike Parson made this week about the veterans and the commission. 

A summary of the investigation was released earlier in December, but Noonan, who was commission chairman since 2017, had resisted an open records request from the Post-Dispatch to release the full report.

Officials inside Parsons administration and state Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, had urged Noonan to release the full report, and he did so after Attorney General Eric Schmitt directed him to, Noonan said.

That came after Parson on Wednesday expressed frustration with the commission, which is an independent body. 

"I'm not going to worry about everybody's personal lives that sit on the commission, or the chairman," Parson said. "I'm just going to absolutely worry about the veterans and that's my whole focus."

Noonan said he resigned because of those comments.

"The fundamental issue is not the distraction and misleading statements regarding releasing the closed record, which I believe will do nothing but harm the MVC and indeed should remain closed, but rather this statement," he said.

The 415-page report concluded that Paul Kirchhoff, executive director of the commission, and Deputy Director Ryon Richmond, "should have appreciated the presence of a COVID-19 outbreak by Sept. 2, 2020, and acted immediately to attempt to isolate and contain the spread of COVID-19.

Among other things, the report cited failures to quarantine staff and patients awaiting test results, a lack of formal infection control policies and failure by top staff at the veterans commission to prepare for a prolonged outbreak. 

"Failure to do so led to rapid explosion of cases inside the Homes and unnecessary Veteran deaths," said the report, which was compiled by Armstrong Teasdale, a St. Louis law firm.

Since September, at least 142 veterans housed in the facilities have died after contracting COVID-19, the commission reported Dec. 8. More recent death figures were not immediately available.

Parson ordered the independent investigation into veterans homes on Oct. 2. 

As of Friday, Missouri has recorded 397,299 confirmed COVID-19 cases, an increase of 4,729 since Thursday. The state health department also reported 5,540 deaths, up 21 since Thursday.