Vets’ Home Legionnaires’ Outbreaks Spur New Disease Notification Law | WBEZ
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Vets’ Home Legionnaires’ Outbreaks Spur New Disease Notification Law

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation on Friday that would require state veterans’ homes to notify residents and their families within 24 hours of an infectious disease outbreak, including Legionnaires’.

The new law is in response to multiple Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, including one in 2015 that killed 12 residents at the facility and sickened dozens more. It’s one of several pieces of legislation passed following a WBEZ investigation into the state’s inability to contain the illness at the home over the last three years.

Rauner’s administration waited six days in August 2015 after knowing a Legionnaires’ epidemic was at hand at the home before notifying the public about the growing outbreak, even as residents lay dying with their families, in some cases, saying they had not been told about Legionnaires’.

Shortly afterward, state Public Health Director Nirav Shah described that notification delay as being “in line with our typical reporting protocol.” In February, Rauner doubled down on that assertion, telling Crain’s Chicago Business that “we would not do anything different” at the facility if he could turn back time.

But Friday’s bill signing seems to contradict his earlier statements. The Republican is in the midst of a heated re-election campaign, where Democratic rival J.B. Pritzker has hit Rauner repeatedly for his “fatal mismanagement” at the Quincy home.

Rauner did not offer any explanation about why he signed the legislation, and his press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Democrats who have been hounding him on the Quincy issue pounced.

“The governor signing the bill indicates that he realizes that the residents of the Quincy veterans’ home, in addition to their families, were not properly notified and that this law needed to happen,” said state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, an Oswego Democrat and chief House sponsor of the legislation.

“This bill admits that he didn’t do everything right and that you need to give notice to people. So this is an exact bill that contradicts the governor’s assertion that he did everything right – which it’s clear he didn’t do everything right because people died and people got significantly ill,” she said.

Under the legislation, veterans’ homes would have to provide written notification to each resident and their emergency contacts or next of kin within 24 hours of any outbreak of Legionnaires’, influenza, pneumonia, or other infectious diseases. The facility also would be required to post a notification near the entrance of the home.

“In 2015, the families of the servicemen and women residing in the Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy should have been notified of the Legionnaires’ disease epidemic, but Gov. Rauner’s administration left them and their loved ones in the dark,” said state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat and lead Senate sponsor of the bill. “This is simply unacceptable, and we can’t let it happen again.”  

The governor has another significant piece of Legionnaires’-related legislation still on his desk. It would apply to the dozen families that have sued the state for negligence in connection with the Legionnaires’ deaths of their loved ones at the Quincy home.

That measure would increase the state’s existing liability cap from $100,000 — the lowest in the country — to $2 million. Rauner’s office has not indicated whether he intends to sign that bill, which passed both legislative chambers with veto-proof majorities last spring.

Lawmakers have also set aside more than $53 million to rehab a nearby nursing facility, and begin to rebuild the aging Quincy veterans’ home and replace its plumbing, which is thought to be the source of the waterborne bacteria that causes Legionnaires’. Rauner’s administration had originally asked for $245 million to rebuild the home.

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