Governor Bruce Rauner wrapped up a week-long stay at the Illinois Veterans Home (IVH) in Quincy Wednesday morning with a news conference. He used the platform to show his support for the residents and the staff and to call for some significant infrastructure improvements at the facility.
Rauner described the veterans at the IVH as “awesome” and “the reason why the United States is the greatest nation on Earth.” He told one story about how a resident, Greg, defeated the Governor over and over in Connect 4.
Rauner also praised staff members for their commitment to the veterans.
“Not only are they top of their profession in medical care and medical knowledge and expertise as well as maintenance expertise and other types of professional ability, they are a loving, nurturing, extended family for the veterans who live here,” said Rauner.
Rauner said he decided to spend the week in the IVH because he wanted to see for himself how the facility was run as opposed to listening to people call for the facility to be closed.
The calls are in response to the deaths of 12 IVH residents from Legionnaire’s disease in 2015 and one more in 2017. Other residents and staff members have been sickened as well.
“I do not support closing this facility, period,” said Rauner. “I would be delighted, I would be honored, proud, no hesitation whatsoever to have any member of my family come to live here.”
According to the CDC, people can contract Legionnaire’s disease if they breathe in small droplets of water containing the bacteria legionella, which is found naturally in freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams. The agency says it can grow and spread in water systems such as:
- Water heaters
- Large plumbing systems
Rauner made a point to state that he spent his time in the IVH just like the residents do, outside of leaving on Saturday and Sunday for prior commitments and family obligations.
“I’ve stayed every night here, I’ve eaten every meal here except for Saturday lunch and Sunday lunch,” said Rauner. “I have taken all my showers here, every day, in the showers here, I have drunken the water from the sinks here and other sources.”
That last part received cheers from the residents and staff members in the room.
Rauner did acknowledge that a lot of work must be done to make sure the IVH is safe for residents and staff after what he described as decades without investment. He said the IVH has implemented every recommendation from the CDC since 2015 to combat the Legionella bacteria, but he said it has not been enough because there were outbreaks again in 2016 and 2017.
Those recommendations include:
- More heating of water to kill bacteria
- More frequent flushing of pipes
- Aggressive chemical treatment of water
- More constant monitoring of water
- More frequent monitoring of residents
“All of us believed that we could get the Legionella completely out and take the risk down to virtually zero or darn close by doing that,” said Rauner. “But it’s clear that even though we have done everything exactly as recommended, we’ve taken every step, we’ve still had some cases and our goal is zero cases.”
So Rauner said a long-term strategic plan will be developed for the IVH, focusing on several key areas.
- Continually review the water treatment process and explore new technologies
- Replace and upgrade the water systems on the campus - “We do not want any places where any water can be standing for any period of time,” said Rauner.
- Partner with City of Quincy to improve the source of water for the IVH (explore using aquifers instead of the Mississippi River)
- Explore the aging housing on campus – “I personally think one of the things we should look at it building a major new home, brand new building here that has the latest technology, the latest layout and the latest capabilities where all the residents can all be together,” said Rauner.
Rauner said he wants to put this plan together as soon as possible. He said the money to help pay for this could come from the state, from the federal government, and from private, philanthropic efforts.
Rauner told the crowd of residents and staff that he would return to the IVH to make sure progress was being made to keep them safe and healthy.