QUINCY — After spending a week at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, Gov. Bruce Rauner made a commitment to find the money for new infrastructure to eliminate the danger posed by Legionella bacteria.
Surrounded by residents of the home, Rauner described the facility as “a true home with an extended family of veterans and staff” where water safety protocols now exceed any in the state.
“We'll find the money” to erect new buildings and replace aging water lines, Rauner said.
The first-term governor said he is encouraged by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's promise of federal dollars to help the home and comments by several state lawmakers pledging their support for capital upgrades in Quincy.
Rauner will establish a task force to look at even greater health protections for the home, to improve water quality coming from the city and to upgrade rooms and facilities that have been used for decades.
“I personally want to see a brand new building” in addition to remodeling of existing structures and a new water system elsewhere on the 210-acre campus, Rauner said.
Rauner arrived at the home last Wednesday to see for himself how things are going at the home where 13 people have died and dozens were sickened by Legionella bacteria during the past three years. A major outbreak of Legionnaires' disease occurred in 2015, leading to 12 deaths.
Pointing to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rauner said the state responded appropriately in 2015. A water treatment facility was built for nearly $6.4 million, and staff has followed increasingly strict protocols to spot any cases that could lead to pneumonia.
“Since the first day here, I've had my temperature checked every four hours,” Rauner said, drawing nods and chuckles from the residents seated nearby.
Rauner added that he met with Blessing Hospital administrators this week, who agreed to handle tests for Legionella in town, rather than sending them elsewhere.
“We'll have results within a couple of hours, not four days,” Rauner said.
He added that the Illinois Department of Public Health is going to offer quick-result Legionella tests statewide, due to the focus the Quincy cases have brought to the bacteria, which is widespread during summer months.
Following a new CDC recommendation, Rauner said the home also will add filters on faucets, matching what has been on shower heads for some time. The filters are designed to block impurities as small as the Legionella bacteria.
Carol Jardine, a resident of the home who was among those sickened by Legionella in 2015, sat nearby as Rauner held his news conference. She said staff at the home has constantly increased their efforts to halt any outbreaks.
“Nobody knew much about this (in 2015) and thank God they have taken steps to control it,” Jardine said.
Mayor Kyle Moore attended Rauner's news conference and said he is encouraged that Illinois legislators at a hearing on the Quincy veterans home on Tuesday called for a capital bill.
“I believe the state would be well served by investing more capital in each veterans home in Illinois so our veterans and their families have a wide network of options to receive the top-of-the-line care they deserve,” Moore said.
A steering committee formed by Moore was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the joint hearing by the Senate and House veterans' committees. Committee members, including a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials, have resisted calls by Rauner's political opponents to close the Quincy facility. Durbin said last week that he does not believe the home should close.
Rauner drew applause from residents and staff when he made his position clear.
“Let me be crystal clear. I do not support closure,” Rauner said.
The veterans home has 349 residents and about 500 employees, with an annual budget of $54 million.