Local Government

Vets home upgrades water system for $4.8 million to limit risk of Legionnaires' disease

Plumber Alex Rose looks for a tool while installing a point-of-use mixing valve, which will provide hot water scald protection for staff and residents, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in the multi therapy building at the Illinois Veterans Home. About 600 mixing valves will be installed at the facility, part of numerous upgrades to the home's domestic water system. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Phil Carlson 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 21, 2015 8:40 am
QUINCY -- Emergency repairs and replacement of a water system estimated to cost $4.8 million are underway at the Illinois Veterans Home where a Legionnaire's disease outbreak was linked to 12 deaths and 54 residents who were sickened between July and September.

The home also has been approved for more than $24.6 million in operational funding under a legislative compromise signed into law this month.

The emergency health and safety project includes the installation of a new water main and other water lines at the home. An existing garage is being converted into a chemical treatment station. Mixing valves will be installed in the hot water system, which will be heated to higher temperatures. Disinfection equipment, backflow valves and other upgrades also are going into the cold water system to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaire's disease.

"The work is anticipated to be complete by the end of April 2016," said Allie Bovis, a spokeswoman for the state.

BRIC Partnership LLC of Belleville is leading the water system upgrade with the assistance of several local companies. Poepping Stone Bach and Associates is a consultant, and Doyle Plumbing and Heating of Jacksonville is the coordinating contractor and is working with Waterkotte Construction and Brown Electric of Quincy.

Illinois officials hope to be reimbursed up to 65 percent of the cost of the new construction from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' State Home Construction Grant Program. Until federal funds are approved, the costs of the water system upgrade are under the direction of the Illinois Capital Development Board.

Emergency work on the water system began after dozens of residents at the Veterans Home contracted Legionnaires' disease. The potentially fatal illness is caused by Legionella, a naturally occurring water-borne bacteria which can be inhaled as an aerosolized water vapor. It can cause pneumonia, body aches and fever. Healthy people might have only mild symptoms. The elderly and people in poor health can contract serious, life-threatening illnesses.

During the Legionnaire's outbreak, the Veterans Home shut down water sources and used bottled water for cooking, drinking and sponge baths.

The state had not been sued over the Legionnaires' deaths or illnesses, according to a spokesman.

Operational funds for the home had been withheld until this month due to the Illinois budget crisis.

A $3 billion spending plan was approved by the Illinois Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner in early December. The legislation was necessary to release money for Veterans Homes and several other agencies that have faced spotty funding since Illinois entered a new fiscal year on July 1 without a budget.

State Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, said those funds also should help pay small businesses that have provided services for the Veterans Home and have been waiting on their money.

"This (budget stalemate) has had a very broad effect. It has affected all the way from simple things like grass mowing and tree trimming, to the tree removal after the windstorm in July," Frese said.

Lyndsey Walters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the home "worked closely with its vendors to ensure there was no suspension of service."

Bruce Vaca, administrator at the Veterans Home, was glad to see the operational funds released.

"We appreciate the support of not only Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Legislature, particularly Sen. John Sullivan and Rep. Randy Frese, but we are most grateful to the many vendors who team with us to provide the best possible care to the men and women we proudly serve," Vaca said.