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Views outside of the Woodridge Nursing Pavilion on April 20, 2020. In Illinois, nursing homes residents account for 55% of all COVID-19 deaths.

Manuel Martinez

Gov. Pritzker Replaces Officials Who Oversaw COVID-19 Response In Nursing Homes

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration is replacing two top Illinois Department of Public Health officials in charge of the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 through nursing homes, WBEZ has learned.

Nursing home residents account for more than half of deaths in Illinois tied to the coronavirus, according to state data. The personnel moves come as the state’s daily COVID case numbers begin to shoot up again as the state opens up.

Debra Bryars, the IDPH deputy director who headed the Office of Health Care Regulation, left last Monday and has been replaced by Daniel Levad, a long-time IDPH staff member, department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold confirmed.

Levad, named the office’s acting deputy director, until recently was chief of an IDPH section focused on intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

In his new position, he reports directly to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the IDPH director, and he oversees more than 400 staffers — nearly a third of IDPH’s workforce, including dozens of surveyors who inspect long-term care facilities and assisted-living establishments to see if they are protecting residents and staff members from infectious diseases and other threats.

The office oversees the state licensing, federal certification and complaint investigations of those nursing homes, hospitals and ambulatory surgical-treatment centers. The office also regulates hospices, health-maintenance organizations and home health agencies and takes complaints about facilities through a 24-hour hotline. It also oversees the licensing of certified nurse aides and physical therapists in private practice.

Bryars, 68, began as a state employee in 1984. She holds a master’s in nursing and became section chief of the department’s Training and Technical Direction Unit before then-IDPH Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck named her the office’s acting deputy director in 2014. She became deputy director the following year. Bryars was paid $122,200 in 2019, according to state comptroller data.

The other top official now out is Aimee Isham, chief of the Bureau of Long-Term Care. Isham, 46, went “on leave” last Monday, the same day Bryars left, according to Arnold. Isham was paid $108,200 last year.

Arnold would not give further details about what prompted the changes, saying IDPH “does not discuss personnel issues.” She did not answer whether Isham remains in pay status. She said others are covering Isham’s duties.

Bryars, reached by telephone, declined to comment immediately. Isham did not return messages.

Read more: All of WBEZ’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Chicago and the region

About 4,062 residents of Illinois nursing homes have died from COVID-19, according to data posted Friday by IDPH. That figure amounts to 55% of all Illinois deaths due to the virus.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about criminal justice. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.

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