After a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that took the lives of 13 Illinois veterans and sickened at least 60 more, Governor Bruce Rauner has signed HB 4278, a law requiring Illinois veterans’ homes to notify residents and their emergency contacts of 2 or more diagnoses of the same infectious disease within a month.
Effective immediately, the law gives veterans’ homes just 24 hours to notify residents and their emergency contacts in writing when at least 2 of their fellow residents have been diagnosed with the same infectious disease. Facilities are also now required to post signage near the main entrance that clearly states the presence of the disease within the home. They must also post a notice on their website. Finally, the new law requires facilities to inform the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Illinois Department of Public Health as soon as they have notified residents.
Public and Employees Left Unaware of Deadly Outbreak in Quincy
The new law stands in stark contrast to the handling of events surrounding a years-long Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans home at Quincy. The facility is currently home to at least 350 Illinois veterans and has had at least one case of Legionnaires’ disease every year since 2014. 12 Legionnaires’-related deaths occurred in 2015 and the latest death was just last fall. In total, 13 veterans have died since 2015 and at least 60 more have been sickened by the disease.
The state of Illinois and in particular, Governor Rauner, have had to answer not only to the loved ones of those who have been sickened, but also to the Department of Labor and the public. The Illinois Veterans’ Home at Quincy and Rauner are accused of mishandling the tragedy by taking a week to notify the public of the outbreak, failing to notify its own employees of an outbreak, and withholding the information from the CDC until a month after the first confirmed Legionnaires’ disease diagnosis in 2015. By the time the CDC arrived to inspect the facility, the singular case had turned into a full-fledged outbreak.
Rauner’s Plan to Combat and Control Future Legionnaires’ Outbreaks
The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, legionella pneumophila, is particularly difficult to eliminate from water supplies, especially a water system as large and old as the one at the Illinois Veterans’ Home at Quincy. The facility was built in 1886 and is made up of multiple buildings and aging pipes and infrastructure. Many of the pipes are original to the building, meaning complete elimination of legionella bacteria may be nearly impossible.
In 2016, Rauner authorized and carried out a $6.4 million upgrade of the water system within the facility, but 4 residents have since been sickened.
The latest plan, and hopefully one that will finally eliminate the risk of Legionnaires’ disease for Quincy veterans, is to completely rebuild the veterans’ home at a cost of $245 million. The rebuild will take at least 4 years and residents will be temporarily housed at Sycamore Healthcare Center, a former nursing home located just down the road from the current veterans’ home in Quincy. Work to prepare Sycamore for its temporary residents began in June, but officials have not said when it will be ready to begin housing veterans.
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