A total of 3,433 candles were lit outside Chicago's Thompson Center Thursday — one candle for each coronavirus-related death at an Illinois nursing home.
The vigil, which was organized by the Service Employees International Union, the union representing nursing home workers, was an effort to demand that safeguards be put in place to prevent more future deaths.
The 3,433 lives lost — approximately 53% of deaths statewide — include the nursing home patients and workers who died from the virus. Nationwide, approximately one in three coronavirus deaths have occurred at nursing homes, according to the SEIU.
"Our people [are] used to dealing with people at [the] end of life... not used to dealing with death like this," said Shaba Andrich, SEIU Health Care's vice president of the nursing homes division.
As part of National Nursing Home Day of Action, vigils took place in Illinois and more than one dozen other states to remember those who died from the virus.
"When these people started dying, [I] couldn't grieve because others needed me," said Carla Blacher, an employee at Lakeshore Nursing Home.
In a recent news release, the SEIU said Illinois' nursing home industry failed to stop the pandemic because of their greed.
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"The appalling levels and scope of fatalities and illnesses among nursing home residents and workers continue to fuel demands for accountability on the Illinois nursing home industry as questions continue to rise about what dramatic steps the industry is taking to mitigate the pandemic and protect residents and staff," the union added.
Members have asked that nursing homes increase COVID-19 testing, give employees proper personal protective equipment, create plans to increase staff at every facility and pay fair, decent wages.