McSweeney urges swift state action at Quincy veterans home
By Angela Underwood
Jan. 9, 2018
Lake County Gazette
Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) wanted answers at the joint Illinois House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday.
Directing his questions to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah and Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Jeffries, McSweeney wanted to know why the public was not immediately informed of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy in 2015, which has since caused 13 deaths.
“First I want response from you about the six-day delay and then ... what happened between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27 of 2015,” McSweeney said. “Was that a mistake not to immediately inform the public of the information that you had at the point of a potential outbreak.”
“That six days was a time of deliberation,” Jeffries said, adding that though it is the Department of Public Health’s responsibility to notify the public, both departments issued a joint response. She went on to say that officials wanted to get their “facts straight” before alerting anyone of the two deaths due to Legionnaires'.
Before alerting the public, she and Shah briefed leadership, immediately began remediation on the water supply, educated the staff and took vital signs of all residents, Jeffries said.
“All of that time spent in that six days was to ensure that before information was released that we knew what we were talking about,” Jeffries said. “Rather than incite hysteria or panic, it is our duty to be sure we are not putting incorrect information out to the public domain. On Aug. 27, we were sure.”
Since 2015, there have been 13 reported deaths due to the disease that has allegedly been transmitted through the water supply piping. Gov. Bruce Rauner checked into the facility Jan. 3 to stay a few nights and met with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Jan. 5 to discuss future safety measures.
McSweeney questioned the possibility of renovating the 200-acre facility for future safety, asking Jeffries to draw up a proposal on what would be required.
“I think that what we need to do from my preliminary assessment is build a new facility,” McSweeney said, adding even though he is one of the most fiscally conservative representatives, he would support the funding needed. “I will tell you right now, I will support it a capital bill that would renovate the facility or build a new facility.”
“I will take your money, representative,” Jeffries said, adding, “We will begin working up that robust plan immediately.”
McSweeney pressed his seriousness to Jeffries four hours later at the meeting.
“We cannot allow any more deaths or cases that result in the deaths of our veterans,” McSweeney said, adding if necessary, Rauner could work with President Donald Trump for needed federal funds. “I ask you, in fact I implore you, I beg you because I don’t want to be sitting here in a couple of months talking about the same thing.”