Herald-Whig View

HERALD-WHIG VIEW: Vets Home in Quincy could use nearby facility

Posted: Mar. 1, 2018 11:15 am Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 9:30 am

FOUR new reported cases of Legionnaires' disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy in recent weeks have ratcheted up the pressure on Gov. Bruce Rauner to produce a plan to ensure the future safety of the more than 350 residents living there.

While we should demand full accountability and believe the administration's response should receive a thorough and objective review, veterans and their families should not be used as pawns in what has become a political blame game. Resolving this lingering crisis to enable the state's flagship veterans home to continue to offer vital services to its residents should be the primary focus, not trying to score points with voters.

With that objective in mind, both federal - led by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin - and state elected officials over the last two months have said they are committed to investing in additional infrastructure improvements and safety measures at the home, which serves veterans from more than half of the state's 102 counties. That dialogue should continue.

Specifically, there have been repeated calls for building new facilities or replacing antiquated plumbing that likely harbors the deadly Legionella bacteria at the Quincy home, either of which could produce a remedy that so far has escaped and frustrated experts.

Those long-term solutions would take time, however, and the continuing cases of Legionnaires' disease necessitate short-term action. Rauner, who spent a week on the campus in January and saw firsthand the high level of care delivered there, told Chicago reporters last week that he will be announcing the administration's next steps "in the near future" but did not elaborate.

We strongly urge the governor and state agencies to give careful consideration to a feasible, transitional option that would address many of the stated safety concerns and achieve that short-term objective.

It would require the state to buy -- or rent -- the vacant Sycamore Healthcare Center facility just two blocks from the Veterans Home grounds and temporarily move the 75 residents now living in Elmore Infirmary -- where most of the Legionnaires' cases have been traced -- there until Elmore can be renovated or replaced.

Sycamore Healthcare Center closed in April 2017, a victim of Medicaid funding cuts instituted in 2015 and a state budget impasse that began that year and lasted until last summer.

The skilled nursing facility at 720 Sycamore has more than 26,000 square feet of space, features 102 rooms and was licensed for 205 beds at the time of its closing. DLZ Capital of New York bought the facility out of foreclosure and has it listed with Mays Realtors of Quincy for $795,000.

There has been a growing chorus of politicians calling for residents to be moved to other facilities across Illinois, which also would carry a hefty price tag for the state. We strenuously object to any such plan and urge our readers to do the same.

Moving those residents two blocks would be less physically taxing, and the proximity to the campus would enable them to still have access to services and activities at the Veterans Home.

Most important, it would offer safeguards to residents while state and federal officials work in conjunction with engineers and health professionals to devise permanent solutions to secure the future viability of the state's largest and oldest veterans home.

Allowing politics to dictate these important decisions would be a disservice to our military veterans, their families and the dedicated staff serving them in Quincy.