Sen. Durbin visits veterans home during Legionnaires' crisis

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Sen. Dick Durbin toured the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy on Friday, calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner to come up with a plan for the home. (WLS)

Sen. Dick Durbin toured the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy on Friday, calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner to come up with a plan for the home were outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease have left 13 people dead.

Rauner is responding in an unconventional way to criticism of his administration's handling of outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease at the Illinois Veterans Home. His office says the Republican has moved into the home for several days to get a better idea of how it operates.

"Most important, I've spent quality time with our veterans, learning from them, socializing with them, hearing their phenomenal stories," Rauner said in a statement.

On Friday, Rauner said he plans to stay at the home until the middle of next week.

"I think the fact that the governor has now visited and is now staying overnight at the Quincy veterans home shows that it is high on his priority list. That was my goal...I've invited him to come up with a new plan...and let us pay for the funding on that through the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration," Durbin said.

Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said the Republican arrived at the home in Quincy Wednesday night and plans to stay several days.

"His schedule will vary, but will focus on gaining a more thorough understanding of clinical, water-treatment and residential operations at the home," Bold said in a statement. "He will be staying in a room like the rooms residents stay in."

A Center for Disease Control report released Friday said that the complete eradication of Legionella in a large and complex building's water system may not be possible.

Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia, claimed the lives of 12 residents and sickened 53 in 2015. WBEZ Chicago reported last month that it returned in 2016, making five more people ill. Last fall, three more got sick and the disease contributed to the death of another veteran.

Eleven families have filed a lawsuit against the state for negligence, claiming the deaths were preventable.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss issued a staement, saying, "The Illinois Veterans Home just suffered the third outbreak of Legionnaires Disease since 2015. With 13 deaths and more than 60 people sickened, I'm less interested in why Bruce Rauner is moving in for a week - the best way to show our support for these veterans, the facility's staff, and their families by getting to the bottom of what happened, why it was kept from the public for so long, and what will be done to keep people safe moving forward."

Legionnaires' is caused by bacteria that can multiply in warm water. The state spent $6.4 million upgrading the home's water system after the 2015 outbreak.

Asked last month whether he would drink the water at the home, Rauner said, "Absolutely."

Rauner has been criticized by several Democrats seeking to replace him in November's election.

Officials in Quincy, about 311 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of Chicago, are taking action to prevent a closure. The (Quincy) Herald-Whig reported that Mayor Kyle Moore introduced a committee Thursday that has been meeting since Dec. 15 after the initial report of the outbreak.

"We were very concerned when a number of well-intentioned elected officials and candidates for office began calling for the closure of the Quincy Veterans Home," Moore said. "We know the home is doing everything it can to eradicate the bacteria, and everyone involved is working together to find the best possible outcome."

A joint House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing will examine the issue at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Chicago.

WLS-TV contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
politicsBruce Raunerlegionnaires' diseaselegionnaires' outbreak 2015veteransIllinoisSpringfield
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