Sen. Dick Durbin asks for federal investigation after Legionnaires' outbreak

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
QUINCY, Ill. (WLS) -- There are questions about the fitness of Illinois' oldest and largest veterans' home after a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. Twelve residents of the facility in downstate Quincy have died and now Sen. Dick Durbin is asking federal officials to look into the tragedy.

Illinois' senior senator says he wants to know whether the Quincy Veterans Home is fit for occupancy. Two days after the I-Team reported that state officials were caught off guard by the outbreak, Durbin asked federal officials to ensure Quincy is safe.

The 12 deaths are among 54 veterans' home residents who have been infected the past few weeks.

"Well, Legionella is in the water, so the water management plant is being very proactive in addressing all sources of water on the facility ground-which is a rather large undertaking as you can imagine," said Shay Drummond, Health Department Director of Clinical and Environmental Service for Adams County.

With 48 buildings on 200 acres, the specific source of the Legionnaires' outbreak hasn't been identified and state investigators say that is common.

"What we did discover is that we need to have an increased amount of treatment in our water," said Erica Jeffries, director, Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs. "Um, we did not have, um, we were not aware of the level of vulnerability."

On Friday, the director of the Illinois Veterans Affairs Department was confident that aggressive steps were being taken to step up the chemical processing of water here in Quincy and the other state-run VA homes, all of which receive federal funds.

But as the deaths in Quincy equal this summer's record Legionnaires' outbreak in New York City, Sen. Durbin is asking for federal authorities to make certain enough is being done in Illinois.

Sen. Durbin sent this letter to the federal secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services stating that the Quincy source has been difficult to find. Durbin asks them to find out whether the age and condition of the facility are linked to outbreak. He also questions whether Quincy is capable of offering the quality of care that veterans deserve and says there need to be steps in place to prevent a future outbreak.

Here is the full text of Sen. Durbin's letter:

Dear Secretary McDonald and Secretary Burwell:

The recent Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans' Home-Quincy has so far resulted in 13 deaths-12 of them being residents of the state veterans' home-and an additional 54 people testing positive for the disease. I urge the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services to look into whether proper steps are being taken to provide a high quality of care to our veterans at the facility and whether the age and condition of the Illinois Veterans' Home-Quincy contributed to the outbreak. I also urge your departments to work with the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs (IDVA) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to prevent such an outbreak in the future.

The Illinois Veterans' Home-Quincy is the largest and oldest veterans' home in Illinois, providing long-term care for veterans and their families since its inception in 1886. Since the disease was detected, IDVA, IDPH, and the Adams County Health Department continue to work with home staff to identify and mitigate the source of the outbreak, implement control measures to prevent additional infections, as well as provide medical care for those experiencing respiratory illness.

However, the size of the Illinois Veterans' Home-Quincy's campus and the age of its infrastructure and plumbing have made it particularly difficult to track the source of the outbreak. Those most at risk to this bacteria are seniors and individuals with other medical conditions, such as those at the Illinois Veterans' Home-Quincy. The extent of this outbreak and the resulting deaths raises important questions about the capacity of the facility to provide the standard of care veterans deserve.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services should ensure the Illinois Veterans' Home-Quincy is taking the proper steps to provide a high quality of care to our veterans and to prevent such an outbreak in the future.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement regarding Durbin's letter, saying:

"We appreciate Senator Durbin's interests in our veterans and the Quincy home. We briefed the Senator 3 weeks ago (on Sept. 3) and have been providing regular information to his staff. The United States Department of Veterans' Affairs have also been kept to up-to-date on our team efforts to care for our residents and remediate the home's systems. Additionally, we have been working hand-in-hand with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track patients with respiratory illness who have a connection with the home."
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