VA home plagued by Legionnaires’ disease should be rebuilt, task force says

CHICAGO — An Illinois task force has released its recommendations for addressing the Legionnaires' disease crisis that has killed 13 people at a Quincy veterans home since 2015.

Among the recommendations are: constructing a new state-of-the-art home, updating existing piping, building a new water plumbing loop, tapping a water source other than the Mississippi River, and renovating an off-site facility to provide temporary housing for residents during the construction of a new home.

The total price tag rings in at nearly $250 million.

Mike Hoffman leads the task force. He's urging the Illinois General Assembly to authorize the spending.

"There are 19 days left in session for the General Assembly," Hoffman said. "That’s 19 session days unless they cancel some, like they did in the past. That’s more than enough time to move forward on our proposals."

Hoffman said there were four confirmed Legionnaires' cases at the downstate Quincy facility in February. Among those who became ill was Ivan Jackson, an Air Force veteran WGN News profiled in January. All four people recovered.

"He’s doing as far as I know," Hoffman said of Jackson. "I have not seen him for a couple of weeks. The last time I saw him he was up and about."

Water at the facility has been tested regularly this year, officials said. Pall filters were installed in March. Since then, nobody has gotten sick.

"It’s a temporary solution," Hoffman said. "These filters are not cheap. We are very cautious about saying that it’s solved because we’ve had issues before. What we are doing is continuing our efforts that started in 2015."

Hoffman took the lead on Quincy after questions arose about the Rauner administration’s response; there was a delay in notifying families about Legionella bacteria.

Hoffman came to Gov. Bruce Rauner's defense Friday, saying "the team handled a very difficult situation very well."

In a surprise move, Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Jeffries resigned her post last month. Hoffman on Friday said Jeffries was not pressured to step down by Rauner or senior staff in the governor's office.

"The governor has been fully supportive of her throughout the entire time," Hoffman said, "and it’s a loss for the state that she’s leaving."

Hoffman also weighed in on a controversial email from a Rauner aide who wrote, "We can maybe tie [the Legionnaires' outbreak] back to Sen. Tammy Duckworth."

Duckworth, a veteran who lost her legs in the Iraq War, previously ran the agency that oversees the Quincy home under Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Gov. Pat Quinn.

"My focus is on taking care of veterans today, tomorrow and for generations to come," Hoffman said. "I think wasting time on random comments taken out of context is not the best use of my time. So I’m going to focus on the future."

Did Rauner see that email?

"I don’t believe so," Hoffman said.

The aide, Darlene Senger, was Rauner's chief of staff at the time the email was sent. She is now the Republican candidate for Illinois comptroller.

So, does Rauner still support Senger?

"I can’t speak to that," Hoffman said.