Lawmakers grill Illinois officials during Legionnaires' hearing - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Lawmakers grill Illinois officials during Legionnaires' hearing

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The legislative committee before the start of the hearing. The legislative committee before the start of the hearing.
Illinois Senator Tom Cullerton starts the hearing. Illinois Senator Tom Cullerton starts the hearing.
IDPH Director Shah next to IDVA Director Jeffries. IDPH Director Shah next to IDVA Director Jeffries.
CHICAGO, Ill. (WGEM) -

The Illinois legislative hearing called due to several resident deaths over Legionnaires' disease at Quincy's Illinois Veterans' Home wrapped up Tuesday in Chicago.

The hearing began at 10 a.m. at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago and lasted roughly four hours. 

Illinois Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Cullerton began the hearing with a statement. He said he was moved by the care those at the vets' home showed.

"I could see myself spending my retirement years at the vets' home in Quincy," Cullerton said.

The committee started with testimony from Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Jeffries and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Narav D. Shah.

Jeffries was asked about the six-day delay in reported the first batch of Legionnaires' disease cases. It's a timeframe Republican Senator Sam McCann took issue with.

"If you take six days after you are seeing an epidemic to tell people you're seeing an epidemic, that's six days that you've allowed the disease to spread in a manner that it would not have otherwise," McCann said.

"The actions we took were quick, coordinated and decisive and I stand by them because they worked," said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health

Both Shah and Jeffries told the committee if a future outbreak appears likely, they will work to notify the public immediately. They cited wanting to get the facts straight before making it public.

Some also wondered if this was a private company, would Dr. Shah recommend shutting it down. None of the committee members said they want to see it shut down, but some felt it was time for a new home to be built in Quincy.

"We cannot allow anymore deaths," said Rep. David McSweeney. "We can't allow anymore cases that result in the deaths of our veterans and our family members."

McSweeney believes a new facility could be built with the help of the federal government as well as delaying other capital projects.

McSweeney also asked specifically about aging buildings, Elmore and Kent, which were closed in 2008 and have no plumbing connected.

When asked about tearing down Kent to build a new facility, Jeffries said it was an option if the funding is available.

Jeffries was then asked about the plumbing infrastructure, which the CDC has pointed to as being the source of the problem. She said IDVA is looking into what it would take to replace the plumbing. She said it would cost $25 million to $30 million to replace the piping.

Jeffries and Shah also addressed the option of moving residents during the outbreak. Jeffries said it would be difficult, because more than 40 percent of residents have a form of dementia.

Shah said they asked the CDC about moving the residents, but said the CDC never recommends moving people in that type of situation.

Rep. Stephanie Kifowit revisited the delay in reporting. 

"We have reports of an individual being given Tylenol for multiple days," Kifowit said.

Jeffries said the testing for Legionnaires' takes four to five days to complete. But she said treatment begins immediately.

Shah also responded saying Blessing Hospital was asked to use a quicker urine test. He said the IDPH lab was ordered to complete tests quicker.

Local Illinois representative Jil Tracy asked that if other facilities with a positive Legionnaires' disease case must test water daily. In response, Shah said facilities must have a management plan in place, but they are not required to conduct testing.

Senator Mike Hastings asked "How many lives need to be lost when we finally say enough is enough?" Jeffries responded saying "When one died, it was enough."

Sen. Sam McCann told Shah that he should resign or the governor should ask for his resignation because of the Legionnaires issue. Shah said he strongly disagrees and stands by the measures taken.

Rep. LaShawn Ford asked if the Illinois Veterans' Home were a private facility would IDPH request it be shut down. Shah said they would not but would assist with remediation steps.

State officials reported 12 resident deaths during a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2015. Four more cases were reported in 2016, along with another five cases, including one death, in 2017.

Officials said a staff member also contracted the disease in 2017.

Cullerton, who is the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Committee, called for the full legislative audit following several cases of Legionnaires' disease at the vets' home.

"My administration is deeply concerned about the veterans at the Quincy Veterans' Home," Cullerton stated after calling for the audit. "We are committed to ensuring the residents get the care and treatment they deserve in a safe living environment."

Cullerton's comments came after reports of several lawsuits filed by family members of residents who died in connection with Legionnaires' disease. Click here to read about those lawsuits in detail.

Click here to read extensive coverage of the Legionnaires' disease issue at the vets' home.

Members of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee include:

  • Chairperson : Linda Chapa LaVia (D)
  • Vice-Chairperson : Jerry Costello, II (D)
  • Republican Spokesperson : Michael P. McAuliffe (R)
  • Member: John C. D'Amico (D)
  • Member: Natalie Phelps Finnie (D)
  • Member: La Shawn K. Ford (D)
  • Member: Randy E. Frese (R)
  • Member: Michael Halpin (D)
  • Member: Brian W. Stewart (R)
  • Member: Daniel Swanson (R)
  • Member: Michael D. Unes (R)
  • Member: Ann M. Williams (D)

Members of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee include:

  • Chairperson : Thomas Cullerton (D)
  • Vice-Chairperson : Michael E. Hastings (D)
  • Member: William R. Haine (D)
  • Member: Antonio Muñoz (D)
  • Member: Martin A. Sandoval (D)
  • Minority Spokesperson : Paul Schimpf (R)
  • Member: Tim Bivins (R)
  • Member: Michael Connelly (R)
  • Member: Dale A. Righter (R)

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