Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is responding in an unconventional way to criticism of his administration's handling of outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease at a veterans home that have left 13 dead. His office says the Republican has moved into the home for several days to get a better idea of how it operates.
Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said the Republican arrived at the home in Quincy Wednesday night and plans to stay several days.
"His schedule will vary, but will focus on gaining a more thorough understanding of clinical, water-treatment and residential operations at the home," Bold said in a statement. "He will be staying in a room like the rooms residents stay in."
Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia, claimed the lives of 12 residents and sickened 53 in 2015. WBEZ Chicago reported last month that it returned in 2016, making five more people ill. Last fall, three more got sick and the disease contributed to the death of another veteran.
Eleven families have filed a lawsuit against the state for negligence, claiming the deaths were preventable.
Legionnaires' is caused by bacteria that can multiply in warm water. The state spent $6.4 million upgrading the home's water system after the 2015 outbreak.
Asked last month whether he would drink the water at the home, Rauner said, "Absolutely." Legionnaires' is contracted when small droplets of contaminated water are inhaled.
Rauner has been criticized by several Democrats seeking to replace him in November's election. His Quincy visit is reminiscent of the three weeks in 1981 that former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne spent in the notorious Cabrini-Green public housing project in response to continued violence at the sprawling site.
The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized in favor of closing the home and moving the 400 or so veterans and their spouses. But Rauner dismissed that idea, saying experts in his administration noted that moving frail, elderly residents to new locations would be more disruptive and potentially cause other health problems.
Officials in Quincy, about 311 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of Chicago, are taking action to prevent a closure. The (Quincy) Herald-Whig reported that Mayor Kyle Moore had formed a committee that has been meeting since Dec. 15 after the initial report of the outbreak.
"We were very concerned when a number of well-intentioned elected officials and candidates for office began calling for the closure of the Quincy Veterans Home," Moore said. "We know the home is doing everything it can to eradicate the bacteria, and everyone involved is working together to find the best possible outcome."
A joint House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing will examine the issue at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Chicago.