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Rauner’s VA director stepping down amid Quincy Legionnaires’ outbreak fallout

Erica Jeffries, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, responds to questions on the Legionnaire's outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home during a January 2017 hearing in Chicago. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Erica Jeffries, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, responds to questions on the Legionnaire's outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home during a January 2017 hearing in Chicago. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

The director of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s beleaguered Department of Veterans’ Affairs is stepping down after months of controversy over the agency’s oversight of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the veterans home in downstate Quincy.

The governor’s office confirmed Erica Jeffries’ resignation after WBEZ obtained emails Friday revealing her last day would be May 18.

“Director Jeffries has indicated to the Governor that she is accepting an offer in the private sector,” Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold wrote in an email. “We thank her for her tremendous service to the State of Illinois and will be vetting appropriate successors in the coming weeks.”

The announcement comes weeks after Jeffries lashed out at news reporters following a hearing in Chicago where state lawmakers grilled her and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah over their handling of the Legionnaires’ outbreak.

“Generally I prefer to speak with journalists who have journalistic integrity,” the veteran U.S. Army helicopter pilot told reporters on her way out of the March 5 hearing.

Since 2015 — the year Rauner appointed Jeffries to the post — 13 residents at the Quincy home have died of the severe form of pneumonia, and dozens more have been sickened by it.

Rauner famously spent several nights at the home in January “to gain a more thorough understanding of the clinical, water-treatment and residential operations of the home,” a spokeswoman said at the time.

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.”

Rauner has since announced plans to replace residence halls at the home, and he assigned a top aide to take over the state’s response to the outbreak.

The families of 11 residents who died are suing the state.