CHICAGO (CBS) — The battle continues over the care of Illinois veterans.
Illinois lawmakers are seeking reassurance from the Rauner Administration that everything is being done to prevent another Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, which has killed 13 people since 2015.
The House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees held a joint hearing Tuesday to learn more about how state departments have been handling the most recent outbreak.
Erica Jeffries, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, stressed that crews have overhauled the facility’s water handling system and can now test the water more quickly — specifically for legionella bacteria.
Still, Republican Rep. David Mcsweeney asked if officials have considered using the abandoned Kent infirmary on the Quincy campus as the site of a new facility for vets.
“Tear it down — there’s 210 acres — and build a new facility to make sure that we have start-of-the-art facilities for our veterans going forward. Is that an option?”
Jeffries said that is “absolutely” an option, adding, “we welcome the funding to be able to renovate our Kent home and any of our other buildings that are on the campus.” She continued by saying the Kent home renovation has been on the Capital Development Board (CDB) list for some time.
Mcsweeney, a fiscal conservative, said he’d support such funding.
Jeffries estimated it would cost between $25 and $30 million to replace the water pipes. Replacing the entire facility, however, would doubtless cost hundreds of millions more.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has previously said his team “is taking every possible action to make sure that our veterans are safe and healthy.”
Despite building a $6 million water treatment plant, heating and chemically treating the water, and replacing shower heads, the residue inside the facility’s old pipes makes it impossible to wupe out the bacteria that causes the disease.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria. It doesn’t spread from person to person; rather, it is born and spread through mist or water.