BOTH federal and state elected officials say they are committed to investing in additional infrastructure improvements and safety measures at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy in an effort to prevent future outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease on the campus.
This is welcomed news for the state's flagship veterans home and the nearly 350 residents living there. The home has been under intense scrutiny in the past month over the state's handling of multiple outbreaks of the disease since 2015 that have sickened more than 60 people and resulted in 13 deaths.
Clearly, identifying and taking appropriate steps to secure the long-term future of the Quincy facility so it can continue to provide needed care for veterans should be the primary objective.
And developments in the last week are encouraging.
In the Illinois General Assembly, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill with Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, that could speed construction of one or more new buildings on the 210-acre campus to further lower the risk of Legionella bacteria.
Senate Bill 2308 and a prefiled bill in the House do not have a specific dollar amount for construction but would rely in part on finances from the Illinois Capital Development Fund. New structures might replace Elmore and Kent infirmaries. Elmore has been in use for more than 50 years, and Kent is closed due to mold.
This proposed legislation came on the heels of a joint House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday in Chicago that examined the response to Legionnaires' disease outbreaks at the home and protocols put in place to prevent future occurrences.
After visiting the home this month, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois pledged to leverage federal Veterans Affairs funding to help. He said the VA reimburses the state for two-thirds of what is spends on the home, including the $6.39 million invested since 2015 to upgrade its water system, which was believed responsible for the spread of the water-borne Legionella bacteria.
"I will continue to advocate for IVH Quincy and push for federal funding on their behalf," Durbin said last week.
In addition, Gov. Bruce Rauner emerged Wednesday from a weeklong stay at the home to say he will work with state and federal legislators to "find the money" to make necessary improvements to the 132-year-old facility. Rauner also said the state will follow a recommendation in the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add filters to water faucets, matching those on shower heads and sprayers since 2016, to help block the flow of Legionella bacteria.
This comes on top of new protocols that were established by the CDC after the initial outbreak to treat residents who display symptoms of the disease.
Moreover, Blessing Hospital says it will be instituting a new in-house method to test for Legionella bacteria that will provide results much quicker to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The hospital said it has been using a testing method that sent specimens to an outside national laboratory for analysis.
Moving forward, the primary goal for the Illinois Veterans Home must be to address potential health risks and develop constructive, long-lasting solutions to best serve residents.
In recent days that message has been embraced by federal and state elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, and veterans' and health agency officials charged with overseeing the home.
That's an encouraging start, but the important work lies ahead. Now that so many key players say they are on the same page, it's time to follow up with action.
Our military veterans and the dedicated staff serving them in Quincy deserve no less.