QUINCY -- Mike Hoffman, who has been tasked with improving safety at the Illinois Veterans Home said things have been moving ahead rapidly in the past two weeks.
"I've been pleased and impressed with the efforts of staff and the leadership of the various agencies and the progress they're making in what I consider a short period of time," Hoffman said.
Hoffman describes the "extraordinary work" that's being done at the Veterans Home to safeguard residents from Legionella bacteria. There were 12 deaths and more than 50 illnesses connected to Legionella at the home since 2015. Another death occurred in 2017 and four new cases of the illness, which can develop into pneumonia, have been diagnosed since the start of 2018.
Hoffman said in the past few weeks, the home has installed 760 new faucet fixtures or Pall filters that can capture Legionella bacteria.
"We have never detected Legionella after the water comes through a filter," Hoffman said.
Tests also are run on unfiltered water, and if the bacteria is found, the Veterans Home staff has the ability to inject additional chemicals into the water line entering that specific building.
Those treatments are on top of the home's $6.39 million water purification system that adds two chemicals to water that Quincy's Water Department treats with another recommended chemical. Treated water is then heated within each building on the Veterans Home grounds to 165 degrees, killing any bacteria that might have survived the other levels of disinfection.
"These protocols go beyond what you'll find at any other facility I'm aware of," Hoffman said.
Hoffman, who formerly directed Central Management Services for the state, was appointed a senior adviser to Gov. Bruce Rauner on March 2. A retired Marine officer, Hoffman was tasked with overseeing Legionella eradication efforts and coordinating with the various state, federal and local agencies involved with the home.
Rauner has scheduled a news conference at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Quincy facility. He spent a week in January at the Veterans Home, living and eating with residents. During a news conference before he left, Rauner pledged to seek funding for upgrades at the home, including new buildings to meet the needs of a new generation of veterans.
"We'll find the money" to erect new buildings and replace aging water lines, Rauner said during his January visit.
Members of a task force appointed by Rauner have been working toward the purchase of the former Sycamore Health Care building near the 210-acre Veterans Home campus. If the former nursing home building is bought, it would provide new options if the Veterans Home staff needs to move some residents from buildings that need to be demolished or retrofitted in the future. But there are no short-term plans for use of the building or closure of sites at the Veterans Home.
State officials also are expected to seek proposals from design firms to come up with a master plan for new facilities at the home.
Hoffman said the Veterans Home of the future will need to deal with a different array of health concerns.
"With the younger veterans we are talking about some polytrauma cases" due to the improvised explosive device injuries seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hoffman said.
Wounded veterans from the past few decades also have survived more serious injuries thanks to rapid medical response. Hoffman said any newly constructed residential buildings would need to take into consideration the mobility challenges faced by veterans who have lost limbs.
"There also are mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries" and any new facilities would need to be designed with those issues in mind, Hoffman said.
"It would be premature to say how we would lay that out" until a master plan is in place, Hoffman said.
Designers would need to look at the facilities, infrastructure including roads, utilities and plumbing and ways to minimize disruption for the residents.
Health care officials have said protecting the Veterans Home residents in place has been the best option. Caregivers said transferring residents to distant locations would cause stress that would threaten their health.
The Illinois Veterans Home currently has about 360 residents. About two-thirds of those residents are 80 or older.