Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth on Wednesday called Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration’s plans to raze the Quincy veterans home “not new or revolutionary” and questioned why it took so long to finalize recommendations for the home where 13 have died of Legionnaires’ disease since 2015.
The strong reaction also comes a day after Duckworth — who ran the state’s veterans affairs department under both Governors Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich — took center stage in a Rauner administration email obtained by WBEZ.
“We can maybe tie this back to Duckworth,” the governor’s deputy chief of staff Darlene Senger, wrote in a Dec. 13 email obtained through an open-records request. Senger is running for state comptroller, challenging Democratic incumbent Susana Mendoza.
Rauner’s office didn’t comment on the email on Tuesday, while instead noting that the governor’s office “has focused on the veterans at the Quincy Veterans Home and their health and safety.”
Duckworth and Durbin’s statement also came a day after a Rauner-created task force released a finalized report that recommended the home be completely reconstructed to the tune of $202 million to $245 million. It also recommended constructing a new, underground “water loop” that feeds existing buildings and new construction; developing an alternate water source and renovating an off-site facility to temporarily house residents during construction and demolition.
“The need for a detailed plan of action is critical and long overdue given the multiple outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease at IVH Quincy that have sickened more than 65 residents and killed 13 over the past three years. The ideas in this plan are not new or revolutionary – in fact, all of the recommendations have been suggested for years and have been ignored by this Administration for far too long,” the senators said in a statement. “It is unclear why it took so long for the Administration to come to this conclusion, but now that it has, we urge Governor Rauner to finally provide leadership on this crisis and implement these changes before another resident or staff member falls ill or dies.”
In response, the governor’s office said it has taken steps to reduce the presence of the bacteria — while also noting it has asked for funding for infrastructure every year.
“The IDVA [Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs] has asked for funding to take care of infrastructure needs at our veteran’s homes every year since this administration took office,” spokeswoman Rachel Bold said. “This administration has implemented numerous changes at the home and according to scientists at the CDC, those changes have significantly reduced the presence of Legionella. We urge the Illinois General Assembly to work with us and provide appropriate funding for us to move forward with building a new state-of-the art facility at Quincy.”
In January, Rauner spent several nights at the home “to gain a more thorough understanding of the clinical, water-treatment and residential operations of the home,” a spokeswoman said at the time
Durbin and Duckworth sent letters to Rauner in January and March, asking for detailed plans to ensure the safety of residents at the home. They also pushed for help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The senators said they will continue to push for federal funding, but also urged the Rauner administration to “do its part and carry out this plan of action immediately.”
The criticism from the Democratic senators is of no surprise. Both are backing Democrat J.B. Pritzker for governor, and have been constant critics of the Republican governor. But Durbin and Duckworth also have vested interests in veterans’ affairs and ensuring the health and safety of Quincy’s veterans.