Lawmakers demand permanent plan for Quincy veteran’s home

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) —  Illinois lawmakers are demanding Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration deliver a permanent plan of action to control an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.

Republican Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills said Tuesday that the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Public Health should deliver a proposal to build a new housing unit at the facility where Legionnaires' has contributed to the deaths of 13 residents since 2015.

McSweeney spoke at a legislative hearing in Chicago called to examine the outbreak that has sickened dozens. Legionnaires' is caused by bacteria in water systems.

McSweeney says a new veterans home in Chicago is costing $75 million. He says the state could delay other capital expenditures, get federal help and build a new dorm for less than that and better protect residents.

Officials say it would cost about $25 million to replace the plumbing at the Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy to mitigate Legionnaires' disease.

But Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Jeffries says installing all new piping at the 130-year-old facility could create separate problems.

Jeffries told a joint House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in Chicago Tuesday that the bacteria that causing the pneumonia-like disease is in the soil. Digging up old pipes could release the bacteria present in the soil or from the old pipes.

And she says new piping is susceptible to growth of biofilm where the bacteria can collect.

Thirteen residents at the Quincy home have died from Legionnaires' disease since 2015. Dozens more have been sickened.

A federal health official says Legionnaires' disease is on the rise nationally partly because of an aging population and an aging infrastructure.

Sam Posner  is associate director for epidemiological science for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

He testified before a joint Illinois House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Tuesday. Lawmakers were examining an outbreak of Legionnaires' that has contributed to the deaths of 13 residents at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy since 2015.

Posner says there were 6,000 cases of Legionnaires' nationally last year. That's up from 5,000 the year before. The disease is caused by bacteria that multiplies in water supplies and sickens particularly elderly people who inhale the vapor.

Dr. Nirav Shah is director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. He says there were about 300 cases in Illinois last year.