Illinois Veterans' Affairs Chief To Resign Amid Quincy Legionnaires' Scandal
Updated at 1:00 p.m. CT
The head of the agency that oversees the state-run veterans’ home that’s been plagued by Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks is resigning, according to an email obtained Friday by WBEZ.
Erica Jeffries, who was Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pick to lead the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, has been at the helm of the agency during a series of Legionnaires’ outbreaks that have resulted in 13 deaths since 2015.
Troy Culbertson, a senior administrator with IDVA, told colleagues via email that Jeffries had accepted a new position and her final day leading the agency would be May 18. Culbertson told staff that Jeffries was leaving for a job with Johnson and Johnson, and that assistant director Harry Sawyer would become interim director.
In a statement, Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold confirmed news of Jeffries’ resignation and said the governor’s office will be “vetting appropriate successors in the coming weeks.”
It comes after a months-long WBEZ investigation that highlighted allegations from 11 families that state employees and officials improperly withheld information about the presence of Legionnaires’ in the Quincy facility at a time when their elderly parents were first displaying symptoms. The families also have been critical of the slowness to test for the illness and administer antibiotics, as well as the state’s failure to safeguard the home’s water system from bacteria that causes the disease.
Jeffries, who earned $115,600 in her position as head of IDVA, has disputed her agency acted negligently.
“I do think our water is probably the cleanest water in the state without hesitation,” Jeffries told WBEZ in a December interview. Two months after making that comment, four more residents of the veterans’ home would test positive for Legionnaires’ disease.
Jeffries also has lashed out at reporters for questioning her about construction plans at the Quincy veterans’ home after a legislative hearing in Chicago, saying, “Generally I prefer to speak with journalists who have journalistic integrity.”
Rauner appointed Jeffries, a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the U.S. Army, to take over IDVA shortly after he was sworn into office. Jeffries was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and medically retired from the Army in 2003, according to her official biography.
Rauner has defended Jeffries as she responded to the repeated outbreaks, even as the governor recently appointed a senior advisor, Mike Hoffman, to manage a new approach to the outbreaks.
This story has been updated to add comments from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office.