U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said action must be taken quickly to protect the residents of the Quincy Veterans Home.
“I feel a sense of urgency and I hope everyone does,” Durbin said last week after touring the facility where 13 residents have died of Legionnaires’ disease since 2015, the most recent last summer. “We owe this to our veterans, to give them a safe place to live. We promised we would.”
Illinois’ senior senator said the fact that Legionnaires’ disease has occurred at the facility three straight years is cause for concern “for all of us and certainly to the families of these veterans.”
Durbin credited Gov. Bruce Rauner with taking time to stay at the troubled facility in an effort to find out more about its inner workings.
“The fact that the governor has visited and stayed overnight shows that it is high on his priority list,” Durbin said.
Rauner has been staying at the Veterans Home since Jan. 3. In a Facebook post, Rauner said he expects to stay at the facility until the middle of this week “when I’ll report more fully on this incredible experience.”
The governor said he has been spending his time on the Quincy campus eating, sleeping and visiting with residents, learning about the culture of the home.
“I’ve been alongside the workers at the home, getting an up-close look at the admissions process, joining the doctor and nurse practitioner on rounds, observing the maintenance staff and carefully reviewing the water management plan,” Rauner said in a post.
The water management plan was the only mention Rauner made of problems at the troubled home in his post. It is believed that the plumbing in some of the facility’s older buildings is to blame for the continued presence of Legionnaires’ disease.
Durbin said while replacing all the plumbing on the Quincy campus is not possible, he said focusing on revamping the piping in areas where the disease has been more prevalent and likely to occur makes sense.
“That would be a good investment, to replace/repair the plumbing in these buildings so there can be no question that we did everything we could for these veterans,” Durbin said.
Illinois’ senior senator said that the Centers for Disease Control has found the same strain on Legionella bacteria that resulted in deaths in 2015 in the same location as it was previously.
“That to me is a red light waving. Something is going on in this facility that needs to be looked at,” Durbin said. “There is galvanized plumbing there, possibly some of the oldest plumbing on campus. I would say that’s a red light.”
The U.S. senator said he met with Rauner at the Veterans Home on Friday and challenged him.
“I invited him to come up with a new plan. Come up with the next plan and let us (he and Illinois’ other U.S. senator, Tammy Duckworth) help you find the funding.”
Rauner told the senator that he is personally committed to improving the home and that Durbin will stand by the governor’s efforts as long as he does.
Durbin said that Rauner cannot emerge from the Quincy facility and simply say everything is fine.
“In no way can we declare ‘mission accomplished, we’re finished here,’” Durbin warned.. “There still is a challenge remaining and we have to face that.”
A congressman representing the Quincy area for 10 years, Durbin said he has always had the maximum confidence in the nearly 500 people who work on the Quincy campus caring for veterans.
“I know they do an outstanding job,” Durbin said of the home’s employees. “I still have a warm spot in my heart for what they do here to honor our veterans who honored our country, risking their lives for us.”
Durbin said he does not see a need to close the home down, feeling that a plan is in place to move the facility forward and make it even safer.
State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie (D-Eldorado), a family nurse practitioner, said that communicating the threat of Legionnaires’ disease is vital in protecting patients.
“An illness like this is too serious to say ‘We are going to keep this quiet’ even for a few days,” Finnie said. “Those who start to exhibit symptoms need to have treatment quickly.”
After touring the Quincy facility, Finnie said she is pleased with the improvements that have been made on the campus.
“We are seeing a decline with the Legionnaires’ disease which is great, but in health care and where our veterans are concerned, it’s never good enough,” Finnie said. “We can do better and it seems they are committed here to doing that.”
—- Durbin concerned over Quincy Veterans Home plumbing —-