Illinois legislator wants audit of Quincy vets' home - Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Illinois legislator wants audit of Quincy vets' home


Illinois State Senator Tom Cullerton stated Wednesday he's calling for a full legislative audit into the "mismanagement" of the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy following several deaths related to Legionnaires' disease.

A news release stated Cullerton was planning to file legislation Wednesday to begin the audit.

“Our veterans have survived combat zones and foreign conflicts – the greatest dangers they now face should not be living their golden years in a state facility,” Cullerton stated. “I’m calling on my colleagues on the Legislative Audit Commission to launch a full examination into the Quincy Veterans’ Home to give the Illinois General Assembly a clear picture of the problems we have on hand. The sooner we examine this atrocity, the more quickly we can remedy the situation.”

The Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs reported 12 people died in connection with a 2015 outbreak at the home.

Since then, the IDVA reported four more cases at the home in 2016 and three additional cases this year. IDVA reported one of the three residents infected this year died.

In the news release, Cullerton, a Democrat, puts blame on Illinois' Republican governor Bruce Rauner for "mismanagement at the home."

“I’m outraged veterans have died on the governor’s watch,” Cullerton stated. “Our nation’s heroes have laid their lives on the line to protect our great nation.  I cannot believe Governor Rauner’s administration has been thoughtless and ineffective in the care and services our veterans continue to receive.”  

Rauner released the statement below:

My administration is deeply concerned about the veterans at the Quincy Veterans' Home. We are committed to ensuring the residents get the care and treatment they deserve in a safe living environment. 
When the first incidence of Legionella occurred in Quincy, six months into my administration, we quickly brought in the Centers for Disease Control and followed their recommendations. The state has implemented a robust and comprehensive water management plan including the construction of a new water management plant and routine testing of the water at the facility.
The CDC in its most recent report said the remediation is 'aligned with the best practices identified in CDC’s water management toolkit.
Legionella is a virus that is a growing concern in the U.S., not just in Illinois. That it has arisen in a place where our bravest and most cherished defenders reside is a tragedy, and we intend to keep working with the CDC at our side to protect our residents.

During a conference call with media members Wednesday, IDVA Director Erica Jeffries addressed whether the home could be closed up because of the ongoing concerns.

"We are not considering closing the Quincy home at this time," Jeffries said. "We have examined that in the past when we had this incident occur in 2015, that question was raised. We did look into what the best course of action would be for our residents and it was deemed that it would not be beneficial to their health for us to move them."

Jeffries also said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was recently called back in to look at the issue.

"After the most recent cases we did invite the CDC to come again," Jeffries said. "They were just at our facility within the last 10 days and were there to again put eyes on to see if there was anything we were missing because we are not hiding from this. We want to find any solution that hasn't yet been uncovered and they continue to tell us that we are doing everything that we can be doing."

State Representative Randy Frese says he's aware of the ongoing issues at the vets home. 

"I have full faith and confidence in the people who are involved in the decision making," said Rep. Frese. "There's nothing we'd like better than to get the problem solved."

A spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, which oversees the Illinois Court of Claims, says 10 lawsuits have been filed against the state related to the Legionnaires' disease cases at the vets' home. Illinois law does cap potential rewards at $100,000.

The office retracted a statement made Wednesday that there were 11 lawsuits. Officials said 11 came up during an automated search, but they later realized the eleventh lawsuit was regarding a different home and was not related to Legionnaires' disease.

Read about the lawsuits here.

The Herald-Whig reported the lawsuits claim the state was aware of the Legionnaires' disease cases but did not make it public.

Adams County Coroner James Keller told the Herald-Whig he found out about the Legionnaires' cases from an outside source, not the veterans' home.

"I wasn't contacted right away," Keller told the Herald-Whig. "I found out about it later through (news) reports."

Keller said the home released the body of the first victim to a funeral home rather than contact him. But Keller said this was not an uncommon practice.

According to the Herald-Whig report, Keller said that death was in July of 2015. The state didn't report the first eight confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease until Aug. 27, 2015.

The Herald-Whig spoke to Jana Casper, whose father was one of 12 veterans that died in 2015 in connection with the vets' home outbreak. 90-year-old Gerald Kuhn was an Army veteran and served in World War II.

Casper's family is one of the 11 families to file suit, but she said the intention is not to get the home shut down.

"When my father was there, the nursing staff was very good to him," Casper told the Herald-Whig. "It's just unfortunate what happened. I think it could have been handled maybe a little differently. Our motive was not at all to have the Veterans Home closed."

Read the full Herald-Whig article here.

Click here to read extensive coverage of the Legionnaires' cases at the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy.

Facts about Legionnaires' disease

  • Legionella can cause Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever, collectively known as legionellosis.
  • The bacterium was named after an outbreak in 1976, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion got sick with pneumonia (lung infection).
  • About 6,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in the United States in 2015. However, because Legionnaires’ disease is likely underdiagnosed, this number may underestimate the true incidence.
  • About one out of every 10 people who get sick from Legionnaires’ disease will die.
  • People can get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain Legionella.
  • In general, people do not spread Legionnaires’ disease to other people. However, this may be possible in rare cases.
  • Legionella is found naturally in fresh water environments, like lakes and streams. It can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems.
  • Keeping Legionella out of water systems in buildings is key to preventing infection.

Causes and Common Sources of Infection

Legionella is a type of bacterium found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams. It can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems like

  • Showers and faucets
  • Cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings)
  • Hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use
  • Decorative fountains and water features
  • Hot water tanks and heaters
  • Large plumbing systems

Home and car air-conditioning units do not use water to cool the air, so they are not a risk for Legionella growth.

How It Spreads

After Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, that contaminated water then has to spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in. People can get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria.

Less commonly, people can get Legionnaires’ disease by aspiration of drinking water. This happens when water “goes down the wrong pipe,” into the trachea (windpipe) and lungs instead of the digestive tract. People at increased risk of aspiration include those with swallowing difficulties.

In general, people do not spread Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever to other people. However, this may be possible in rare cases.

Talk to your doctor or local health department if You believe you were exposed to Legionella AND You develop symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills, or muscle aches

Your local health department can determine whether or not to investigate. Be sure to mention if you spent any nights away from home in the last 10 days.

People at Increased Risk

Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. People at increased risk of getting sick are:

  • People 50 years or older
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with a chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
  • People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
  • People with cancer
  • People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure

*Above information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated one of the four residents infected by Legionnaires' disease in 2016 died. The story was corrected to state one of the three residents reported with Legionnaires' disease this year died.

Powered by Frankly