VA director defends Quincy Legionnaires’ response as Durbin visits home

QUINCY, Ill. --  Governor Rauner is spending another night at the Illinois Veterans Home

Rauner reportedly has plans to stay for several more days as the state tries to figure the Legionella problem here. 

It was August 2015 when a nurse from the Quincy Veterans Home called Barbara Kiefer to say her 94-year-old father William Schrand was sick.

“She said to me, ‘There’s something wrong with your dad and I don’t know what.’  And I said that ‘I’m on my way,’” Kiefer says. “I went up there and my dad was comatose. He was fine a few days earlier.”

When the lab work came back, it was devastating.

“They called and told me the results were in and I was they’re and they told me it was Legionnalla.” 

William Schrand is one of 13 residents of the Vet Home to die of legionnaires since 2015.

The state has spent millions trying to clean up the facility.

“We have a complete water management plan and water treatment facility right here on the grounds,” says Erica Jeffries, head of the Illinois VA. “In addition to that we have daily testing. And our operational activities that go on every single day 365 days a year right here at the home.”

But people keep getting sick. The Centers for Disease Control found six cases at the facility in 2017, including one death.

Also, the CDC says complete eradication of Legionnaires’ disease may not be possible.

“There’s really no explanation for why someone get pneumonia,” Jeffries says. “This is a vulnerable population and pneumonia is a real challenge.”

When the state knew it had a challenge, it did not notify the public. Records show as early as August 21, 2015, there was an effort to manage the problem. The state waited six days before going public.

11 families are suing the state.

“My dad he was a human being because of what I felt was your neglect you just kind of throwing this off. He was my father. What if that would have been your father?” says Kiefer.

“The question around this six days that was waited before it was released,” Jeffries said.  “That is actually not a long time when talk about making sure there is actually a challenge here that we need to publicize. My heart goes out to her. She lost her dad. I can’t imagine what that feels like. I’m saddened for every single family member that’s lost a loved one.”

The CDC warns it may be impossible to get rid of the Legionella.

Sen. Dick Durbin also stopped by today for a briefing on the cleanup.

“In the past three years there have been some horrible things which have been reported,” he said.

Durbin and others don’t not want to see the facility close.

“I don’t believe that is necessary as long as we have a plan to move forward to make it even safer.”

WGN News went inside the the home today and met Air Force vet Ivan Jackson, 79, a resident for four months.

“I got TV in my room, I got a recliner, I got a refrigerator, I’m good to go,” he said.

The Quincy Veterans Home is one of the oldest in the country. Quincy takes pride in it. It’s a huge employer here.

Ryan Schuenke represents two victims’ families suing the state. However, he says they want the facility to remain open.

“They don’t want the facility to close. I know they’ve indicated that their fathers looked at the Veterans Home as a place that they had earned the right to be at,” he said.

As the homes remains in the spotlight, Governor Rauner says he plans to stay through the middle of next week.