Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday his administration is re-evaluating whether to move residents out of the Quincy Veterans Home following new cases of Legionnaires’ disease as his primary challenger continues to push him on the issue.
“Moving the veterans is an option that we’ve evaluated in the past. We will be evaluating it again now and at all times. We’re evaluating every possible opportunity to keep our veterans safe,” Rauner told reporters at the Thompson Center.
Rauner said the concept previously has been rejected out of fears that a move could create additional health hazards to elderly residents. He said that concern still exists.
“Our veterans are very vulnerable. They’re very susceptible to injury, to illness, they’re very fragile,” he said. “Moving them increases significant risk for other infections and other physical ailments. So, whatever we do, we need to be very thoughtful and careful about it. We don’t want to increase the risk of damage to their health.”
Rauner said he would be announcing the administration’s next steps about the Quincy home “in the near future” but did not provide details.
Since a 2015 outbreak at the facility, 13 residents have died and dozens more have become ill. More cases have occurred, even after the state spent $6 million to upgrade water treatment at the facility.
The recurrence of Legionnaires’ has become a political issue for Rauner, who has faced criticism about his oversight of the problem at the home from governor candidates. There also has been a growing chorus of politicians calling for residents to be moved out.
In January, Rauner spent a week living at the facility as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report saying complete eradication of the Legionella bacteria “may not be possible.” One of the home’s residents, whom Rauner invited as his guest to his State of the State address, contracted the illness.
Earlier Wednesday, Republican primary challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton called on Rauner to move veterans out of the Quincy home and blasted him for telling the Crain’s Chicago Business editorial board that his administration handled the outbreak “exceptionally well.”
“What the hell is wrong with this governor?” Ives said at a downtown news conference. “Veterans and their families are getting sick and dying, governor. Get them out of there, now. Put them in five-star accommodations until or unless the problem is solved.”
Asked how the state would pay for moving the veterans, Ives said, “If we had any relationship with President Trump, we’d go to the president himself and say we need emergency funds in the state of Illinois.”
Rauner often avoids talking about national issues and Trump. On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth visited the home and has asked the CDC to “take a more active role” in Quincy.
Rauner said his administration has “done everything that the national experts from the CDC have recommended.”
“They are baffled, as we are, why we’ve had a few more cases. We will be relentless. We are going to protect our veterans. We’ll be taking additional action,” Rauner said.
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