Senator Dick Durbin issued a challenge to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on Friday as he visited a veterans' home following a string of outbreaks of Legionnaires disease.
“I’ve challenged him, I’ve invited him to come up with a new plan and let us help you pay for the funding for that,” he said. “I think the fact that the governor has visited and is now staying overnight here shows that this is high on his priority list.”
Durbin visited the facility on Friday, and he met with Rauner, who has been staying at the hospital to investigate the steps that are being taken to protect the residents and staff of the building.
“I’ve spent my time on campus eating, sleeping, and visiting with our residents, learning about the culture of the Quincy Veteran’s Home,” Rauner said in a statement. “The work that is being done here to look after residents in the skilled care unit where I am staying is so impressive, so caring, so full of honor and respect for our American heroes.”
Over the last three years, a series of Legionnaires’ outbreaks have led to the deaths of 13 people at the facility, according to reports by WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune. The deaths have prompted an investigation by state officials, with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday to address the crisis.
Durbin promised that the federal government would step up to help the state as they deal with the issues at the facility.
“We stand ready to help. They are entitled to help from our government. We promised to stand by them,” he said.
According to the senator, the CDC also offered recommendations in combating future outbreaks. The agency recommended a new written protocol to address Legionnaires disease, testing samples taken from patients and staff more quickly, and finding new ways to flush the plumbing to help combat the disease were all listed as steps.
Durbin had initially floated the idea of closing the facility to deal with the problem, but now says that after meeting with the governor and other officials that he believes the facility should remain open.
“I don’t believe that is necessary as long as we have a plan to move ahead and make this place safer,” he said.
Dr. Nirav Shaw, Director of the Department of Public Health, agrees with the senator, saying that moving residents wouldn't necessarily protect their health.
“The risk of healthcare infections doesn’t change just because you move people," he said. "We could have moved them to Northwestern Hospital, which has cases of Legionnaires’ disease.”
Durbin’s comments come on the heels of a new CDC report released Thursday said that detailed steps the state is taking to combat issues at the home, but also said that “complete eradication of Legionella in any large, complex building water system may not be possible.”
In 2017, there were 300 reported cases of the disease in Illinois, and the incidence of the disease is rising across the U.S., according to the CDC.
Even with the obstacles, both funding and scientific, facing state agencies as they deal with the outbreaks, Durbin is adamant that solutions be found.
“The number one priority in this visit is veterans, to make sure that we give them continued quality care,” Durbin said. “It is a challenge to all of us, and it’s a challenge we need to meet, to make sure the Quincy Veterans Home is giving the best care and the safest care in the state.”
Rauner, who attended a town hall meeting with residents Friday, will remain at the home until next week, with his wife First Lady Diana Rauner joining him over the weekend.