Outgoing Democratic Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is opening a criminal investigation into Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration over its handling of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy veterans’ home.
“We are investigating whether any laws were violated in the response to the risks of and outbreak of Legionella at the Quincy veterans’ home, where many people died,” Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley told the Sun-Times.
“There needs to be an investigation to determine if laws were violated and whether residents of the home, their families, veterans’ home staff, and the public were informed in a timely and appropriate manner.”
Since 2015, 13 residents at the Quincy home have died of the severe form of pneumonia, and dozens more have been sickened by it. The governor has drawn harsh criticism over the crisis, especially after WBEZ reported that officials knew about the outbreak for nearly a week before alerting the public. Democratic gubernatorial challenger J.B. Pritzker has continually hammered Rauner over the outbreak, labeling it a “fatal mismanagement.”
WBEZ on Tuesday aired a report outlining how Rauner’s administration “engaged in a pattern of slow or incomplete public notification” of the original crisis, which killed 12 residents. State officials waited six days — even though they knew the epidemic was occurring — before notifying residents, families and the public, WBEZ reported.
WBEZ too outlined how Rauner’s former deputy press secretary, who now works for President Donald Trump’s administration, sent an email directing no public notification of the outbreak on Aug. 25, 2015 — four days after people began getting sick.
Pritzker pounced on the news, saying the governor must be held accountable.
“While Rauner’s own office tried to keep the Legionnaires’ crisis under wraps — delaying notification to the public and selectively releasing state records to the media — veterans, their spouses, and staff at the home continued to get sick and die on this failed governor’s watch,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Their families deserve justice, and Bruce Rauner must be held accountable.”
“This was a cover-up all along,” Pritzker said at a debate Wednesday night.
Rauner accused his Democratic rival of politicizing the crisis.
“Shame on you for politicizing the health concerns for our veterans,” Rauner responded.
Asked if his administration mismanaged the crisis, Rauner said “absolutely not.”
“We took action immediately to protect our veterans and our staff,” the governor said.
Illinois Republican Party Executive Director Travis Sterling issued a statement accusing Madigan of launching a “clearly partisan investigation.”
“This is nothing more than the politicization of the devastating deaths of Illinois veterans to distract from JB Pritzker’s scheme to defraud Illinois taxpayers hours before a debate,” Sterling said in a statement, referring to a Cook County inspector general’s report about a property tax break sought by Pritzker.
The Rauner administration released its own statement defending the health care provided to veterans and the information released about the process.
“The administration is focused on maintaining quality care for our veterans,” said Rauner spokeswoman Patty Schuh. “The state has been transparent in this process, providing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to the General Assembly, to the Auditor General at the General Assembly’s request, and to the news media. The Departments of Veterans’ Affairs and Public Health have participated in dozens of hours of legislative public hearings.
“We provided a comprehensive public report to the General Assembly in April of 2018 which clearly outlines the administration’s swift and comprehensive response to the outbreak. We have regularly communicated with residents, staff, family members, and the general public throughout the past three years.”
Earlier Wednesday, State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, called for a criminal inquiry into the deaths.
“This report confirms that the governor’s office deliberately delayed notifying families and the public of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak,” Cullerton said in a statement. “This goes beyond negligence. This is willful endangerment of a vulnerable population that is our sacred duty to protect. This is criminal neglect.
Cullerton is urging Madigan to consider criminal charges against Rauner and any other officials directly involved in the “decisions to conceal the truth.”
Cullerton noted in Michigan, Attorney General Bill Schuette brought charges against former city of Flint health officials regarding the Flint drinking water crisis. He called that a precedent.