Lawmakers still waiting for Rauner’s plan to address Quincy problem as “crisis” continues

tcullerton 022018

CHICAGO -- State lawmakers, veterans and their families are still waiting for action nearly two months after Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration was asked to come up with a construction plan to remedy a public health crisis at a state-run veterans home in Quincy.

In the meantime, Legionnaires’ disease infections have continued and media reports have raised numerous questions regarding the Rauner administration’s priorities and focus.


It is against this backdrop that a bipartisan legislative committee assembles today to continue probing what happened at the Quincy facility and, more importantly, why more hasn’t been done to solve the underlying problems, specifically the century-old plumbing that is known to harbor the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease.

The joint House-Senate Veterans Affairs Committee meets at 9 a.m. Monday, March 5 in Chicago at a legislative hearing room on the 6th Floor of the Michael A. Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle St., to resume questioning of key Rauner officials.

“What I’d really like to see is the Rauner administration use this opportunity to finally make public a specific construction plan to replace the plumbing, beginning with the most at-risk buildings housing the most at-risk veterans,” said Sen. Tom Cullerton, co-chair of the committee and a veteran himself. “There are lots of questions to be answered, but the biggest would be why hasn’t the Rauner administration done anything? They’ve got two engineering reports detailing options. They’ve got lawmakers ready to support their actions. But for more than two months they’ve done nothing but create task forces and hire more bureaucrats. That’s not going to replace the plumbing, which everyone knows is a key source of the infections.”

“I just want to tell them, please, do something,” said Cullerton.

Since 2015, a total of 13 people died and dozens more have been infected with Legionnaires’ disease at the Veterans Home in Quincy. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia. Veterans, their family and facility staff all suffered infections during this public health crisis.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been dispatched to Quincy on several occasions and millions of dollars were initially spent on upgrades to water cooling towers and other systems. But the CDC has also repeatedly pointed to the nearly 100-year-old plumbing as being filled with a biofilm that harbors the legionella bacteria.

It was recently disclosed that the Rauner administration has twice hired outside engineers to come in and study how to address the problem. Two engineering and cost estimate reports have been provided to Rauner officials, but no action taken. The first report, from 2016, indicated the plumbing in buildings housing at-risk veterans could be replaced for $8 million.

The Rauner administration never followed through on those recommendations and initially balked at making the report public, forcing media outlets and lawmakers last month to use the state’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain it.

Rauner’s Public Health and Veterans Affairs directors then skipped a recent legislative hearing called to examine that report, saying they’d not been given enough notice to accommodate their schedules. That very afternoon, another infection was reported at the veterans home in Quincy.

Then came a Chicago radio station detailing how state emails reveal the Rauner administration focusing on how to minimize bad press and debunk criticism from angry family members of the deceased. The WBEZ Chicago report was compiled from emails the station’s reporters received.

All of these issues could be addressed at the Monday hearing.

Legislative hearings began in early January after media reports disclosed the extent of the infections.

Heading into that hearing, Cullerton asked Rauner officials to move quickly to win lawmakers support for a plan to replace the plumbing and make other needed improvements to reduce the public health risk at the Quincy facility.

“The governor and his administration need to quickly outline their capital plan to begin action and implement a strong strategy to provide our veterans the best possible care and service,” Cullerton said in January.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers asked the Rauner administration to simply give them a plan and a dollar figure and they would help win legislative approval.

To date that has not happened despite additional hearings and additional Legionnaires’ infections that now even have Gov. Rauner calling the situation a “crisis.”

Sen. Tom Cullerton


23rd Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Energy and Public Utilities; Insurance; Labor; State Government; Transportation; Veterans Affairs (Chairperson); Sub. on Utility Rate Regulations (Sub-Chairperson).

Biography: Born Sept. 20, 1969; studied at the University of Kansas; former village president and trustee of Villa Park; married (wife Stacey), three sons.

Associated Representatives:
Deb Conroy
Diane Pappas