QUINCY — After a tour of the Illinois Veterans Home Friday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin no longer is calling for closure of the facility but said he is committed to “help the state of Illinois in any way possible to make the Quincy veterans home safer.”
Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, had called for closure of the home in mid-December after reports of 10 lawsuits filed by families of people who died from Legionella outbreaks dating to 2015. He also had called for the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of veterans homes across the country, including those run by states.
Durbin was accompanied on his tour by Dr. Samuel Posner from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials and staff from the home. Durbin also met with Gov. Bruce Rauner, who had borne the brunt of his criticism about the deaths last month. During a news conference, Durbin described what sounded like a positive meeting with Rauner, who is staying at the home for a few days.
“I had a meeting this morning with Gov. Rauner and the head of the Illinois Veterans Administration to discuss his current visit to the Quincy veterans home. I renewed my commitment that Sen. (Tammy) Duckworth and I are prepared to help the state of Illinois in any way possible to make the Quincy veterans home safer. This should be done quickly and on a bipartisan basis,” Durbin said.
“I think the fact that the governor has now visited and is staying overnight at the Quincy veterans home shows that it's high on his priority list. That was my goal. And now I've said to him, I've challenged him, I've invited him — come up with a new plan, come up with the next plan and let us help you pay for the funding on that through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Rauner arrived at the home without fanfare on Wednesday night. His staff has declined media requests for interviews or photo opportunities.
Experts writing for the CDC issued a report Thursday, finding that “complete eradication of Legionella in any large, complex building water system may not be possible. Therefore, some risk for Legionnaires' disease may remain in spite of a fully operational and optimized water management plan, especially for susceptible individuals exposed to building water that contains Legionella.”
Durbin said he was interested in seeing whether some of the oldest parts of the home's water system should be replaced in buildings that were built in the early 1900s.
Troy Culbertson, the home's administrator, found comfort in what he's heard from both Durbin and Rauner.
“I think the governor is demonstrating his commitment to veterans and I think (everyone heard) the heartfelt words of Sen. Durbin today about his commitment,” Culbertson said. “He wants to work with us and the state.”
Rauner has been at the home for what his press secretary, Rachel Bold, described as an effort to “gain a more thorough understanding of the clinical, water-treatment and residential operations of the home.”
A joint meeting of the Illinois Senate and House veterans committees is set to discuss the home Tuesday in Chicago. At least eight tours of the home have been provided for members of the Illinois Senate and House.
Durbin noted that the CDC wants to see the veterans home use quicker tests. Health care officials say some DNA-linked testing can take several days to come back with results. There is another test that is less accurate, but can yield results in as little as 15 minutes.
“I feel a sense of urgency and I hope everybody does. We owe this to our veterans to give them a safe place to live,” Durbin said.
The Illinois Department of Health posted the most recent CDC report addressing the Legionnaires' disease cases at the Veterans Home on Thursday.
CLICK HERE for audio of IDPH Director, Dr. Nirav D. Shah, who hosted a media phone briefing Friday on the latest CDC report.