CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. Bruce Rauner has checked himself into an Illinois Veterans Home in downstate Quincy, where at least 13 residents have died from the infectious Legionnaires’ disease since July 2015.
The governor’s office and Illinois Veterans Affairs Department spokesman Dave MacDonna confirmed the governor arrived Wednesday night to check on the facilities first-hand.
“He plans to spend several days there with the residents and staff. He wants to gain a more thorough understanding of the clinical, water-treatment, and residential operations of the home,” Rauner press secretary Rachel Bold said in an email.
The move is reminiscent of former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne moving into the Cabrini Green public housing complex for three weeks in 1981, after a wave of deadly gang shootings.
Bob Daiber, one of the Democrats running for governor, didn’t call Rauner’s stay at the Quincy veterans’ home a publicity stunt, but he did say the Republican incumbent’s administration failed to do enough to prevent the deaths there.
“I don’t think by him staying there a couple nights is going to correct the issue, but I think when you are governor of this state, and you have facilities such as that that are under your authority, you need to have administrative staff that’s monitoring them, or making sure they’re operating properly,” he said.
Last month, Rauner said the state was taking “aggressive action” to address the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Quincy veterans’ home. Legionnaires’ is a severe form of pneumonia caused by water-borne bacteria.
In October, two of the 400 residents at the Quincy facility contracted Legionnaires’, and one of them died. Since July 2015, at least 13 residents there have died from the disease.
Rauner has denied his team dropped the ball on the Legionnaire’s outbreak.
“Our team is taking every possible action to make sure that our veterans are safe and healthy,” he said in December. “Fact is, in Illinois, legionella bacteria are common in the water supplies throughout the state, and it’s something we need to stay vigilant about.”
Two years ago, a Legionnaires’ epidemic at the Quincy home killed 12 veterans. In the aftermath, the state constructed a new water treatment plant, adding more chlorine to the water and heating it to 150 degrees to kill bacteria.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) said Rauner’s administration hasn’t been transparent about the outbreak, even trying to hide it from residents.
“They didn’t tell them, and then they didn’t tell families who had residents on the grounds that there was an epidemic and an outbreak,” he said.
Cullerton, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has scheduled a hearing for next week in Chicago to discuss the outbreak. He said he intends to call a variety of state agencies to his hearings, including Public Health, the Veterans Administration and the governor’s office. He’ll also summon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He wants to review their recommendations and make sure they’re all being followed.
Rauner has rejected calls from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to simply close the home.
“Their risk of possible infection and death goes up if they’re forced to move out,” Rauner said last month.
CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall contributed to this report.