Grand Jury Subpoenas Rauner’s Office, Top Agencies In Legionnaires’ Probe

The entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home in downstate Quincy.
The entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home in downstate Quincy. Andrew Gill/WBEZ
The entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home in downstate Quincy.
The entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home in downstate Quincy. Andrew Gill/WBEZ

Grand Jury Subpoenas Rauner’s Office, Top Agencies In Legionnaires’ Probe

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A downstate grand jury has subpoenaed records from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office and at least two more state agencies as part of a criminal investigation into fatal Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at the Quincy veterans’ home, WBEZ learned Wednesday.

Rauner’s administration surrendered copies of the Adams County grand jury subpoenas in response to a series of open-records requests.

The grand jury’s demand for Legionnaires’-related records tied to outbreaks at the Illinois Veterans Home went to the governor’s office and to the Illinois Departments of Veterans’ Affairs and Labor. Last week, WBEZ reported that the grand jury had also subpoenaed the state public health department.

The subpoenas, which went out Oct. 25, demand that Rauner’s administration turn over the documents by Thursday. No one has been charged with any wrongdoing relating to the outbreaks.

They represent the latest byproducts of a criminal probe that outgoing Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan disclosed last month. Her office is looking into into how the Republican governor’s administration’s handled a series of Legionnaires’ outbreaks at the facility that are linked to 14 deaths.

The governor’s office responded via email with a boilerplate statement, saying the Rauner administration “responded quickly and effectively to the outbreak and have been diligent in our efforts since.”

The revelation into the broad sweep of Madigan’s investigation came as the Illinois Senate delivered a stinging legislative rebuke to Rauner.

Senators voted overwhelmingly Wednesday afternoon to override his effort to block legislation boosting potential negligence awards for families suing the state for their loved ones’ Legionnaires’ deaths at the facility.

A dozen families have filed suit, but are limited to $100,000 awards if they prevail, a cap which is tied for the lowest in the country. The legislation would boost their possible damages to $2 million. In a partial rewrite of the bill, Rauner had advocated for a $300,000 cap on damages.

The Senate’s 46-8 vote for the measure amounted to a wider margin of support than when it passed in late May by a 42-7 roll call. This time, seven Republicans voted against Rauner’s amendatory veto, as did state Sen. Sam McCann, a former Republican who ran for governor this month as an independent.

Surprisingly, one of the eight Republican lawmakers who voted against the override and remained loyal to Rauner was Sen. Jil Tracy, who represents Quincy. Several of the families suing the state are her constituents.

State Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat who was the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, said WBEZ’s yearlong investigation into the outbreaks demonstrated a pattern of “gross negligence” on the part of Rauner’s administration at Quincy.

Hastings singled out a recent story that documented publicly the errant release of up to 1,600 gallons of stagnant, potentially Legionnaires’-tainted water into the veterans’ home water supply. That happened weeks before the August 2015 outbreak that killed a dozen people.

State public health authorities characterized the water that was accidentally released during a plumbing repair as a “broth of Legionella.” They said its discharge into facility showerheads, dishwasher nozzles, and sink faucets could have warranted state sanctions against the home.

But the state health department didn’t issue any.

Hastings also pointed to the Rauner administration’s delay in notifying residents, their families, staff, and the public about Legionnaires’ at the facility. Documents revealed by WBEZ show the state waited six days after multiple confirmed cases before notifying the public about the epidemic — a lag partially dictated by Rauner’s press office.

Rauner’s administration engaged in similar notification delays when new Legionnaires’ cases emerged in 2017.

“This bill will allow relief of the victims of this act, which is of the most gross negligence,” Hastings said. “Let me say that again, gross negligence. And I hope the victims of Quincy veterans’ home get the justice that they deserve.”

Dave McKinney covers state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow him @davemckinney.