A resident of a state-run veterans’ home south of Chicago has died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease earlier this month, WBEZ has learned.
A source within Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration confirmed Wednesday afternoon an elderly resident at the Manteno Veterans’ Home died after getting sick on Jan. 8 but offered no other details about the victim.
The tragedy poses an early challenge for Pritzker, who hammered his Republican predecessor, Bruce Rauner, for the “fatal mismanagement” of Legionnaires’ outbreaks at the downstate Quincy veterans’ home, where 14 deaths were linked to the illness.
This week, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs disclosed that testing turned up the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ in three different locations at the facility, which opened in 1986 and can house nearly 300 people.
Since learning about the resident’s illness, Pritzker’s administration swiftly disclosed the diagnosis, adhering to the spirit of a new state law that requires state veterans’ homes notify residents, staff, and family about outbreaks of diseases — including Legionnaires’ — within 24 hours.
A single case of Legionnaires’ does not constitute an outbreak. But the sometimes-fatal form of waterborne pneumonia has plagued state government, particularly at the state’s oldest and largest veterans’ home in Quincy.
A WBEZ investigation into the deaths and illnesses of dozens of other residents and staff there spurred passage last spring of eight different pieces of legislation, including appropriations toward a $250 million rebuild of the Quincy facility.
After the new case of Legionnaires’ in Manteno, the state imposed a series of steps that Pritzker’s administration said were designed to protect residents there as a cause for the contamination was sought.
“The state of Illinois will take every precaution necessary to protect our residents, staff, and visitors at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Manento,” acting Veterans’ Affairs Director Stephen Curda wrote in a letter to residents, their families, and staff that was released late Tuesday.
Residents are receiving bottled water and fresh ice from outside the home for drinking and meal preparation. Special filters have been installed on showerheads, and residents’ vital signs are being checked more frequently.
Last week, Pritzker visited the Manteno home to sign an executive order calling for an audit of health and safety at all state-run veterans homes, with a focus on how the homes deal with “public health emergencies.”
Dave McKinney covers state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him @davemckinney.
In the interest of transparency, Chicago Public Media (CPM) reminds its audience that we receive philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. JB Pritzker, the Illinois governor, is not involved in The Pritzker Foundation and does not contribute to it. He and his wife lead a separate philanthropic foundation, the Pritzker Family Foundation, from which CPM has never received any funding.