BEYOND the glare of a second legislative hearing on the status of the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy last week, several significant and positive developments have occurred.
Officials with the Illinois Capital Development Board have identified $15 million that could be used for immediate improvements at the home, to prevent future problems from the Legionella bacteria, which has sickened 60 people and led to 13 deaths since 2015.
Acting Capital Development Board Director Amy Romano told a joint Senate and House veterans' affairs committee Wednesday that legislation has been filed to free up federal matching funds. The overall projected costs are expected to be between $22.7 and nearly $24.5 million. Legislators would need to find at least $7 million more for water infrastructure improvements.
The remediation plan was an updated version of what BriC Partnership LLC completed in August 2016.
Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Jeffries said the systemwide replacement plan was not pursued 18 months ago because a $6.4 million upgrade to the water system had already been completed under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of the work would involve replacement of all water pipes on the 210-acre campus and some new construction.
In addition, Jeffries said a new water management task force for the Veterans Home would make a recommendation on campus upgrades to the General Assembly within 90 days. She said that a second task force would review other infrastructure needs that could include some new construction.
The task forces were established by Gov. Bruce Rauner after he spent a week at the Veterans Home last month. During a news conference before he left Quincy, Rauner put the task forces on a fast track and pledged to work with state and federal legislators to upgrade the home, which cares for about 350 veterans or spouses.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin also visited the Veterans Home in January and promised to "push for federal funding" on behalf of the Quincy facility.
January's hearing on the Veterans Home included testimony from medical experts, who outlined the extraordinary steps taken since 2015 to avoid the spread of Legionella bacteria.
Last week, state Sen. Jil Tracy of Quincy and state Rep. Randy Frese of Paloma welcomed discussion of long-term improvements at the campus.
"We look forward to moving on and bringing out what the public might want to know about what happened and what we're doing now" to make the facility as safe as possible, Tracy told The Herald-Whig.
Clearly, much has changed since December, when news reports of the Legionella outbreak focused on the tragic loss of life in 2015 and the initial reaction was to close the home.
In the interim, many state and federal lawmakers have toured the Quincy facility and learned how water is treated with additional chemicals, heated to kill bacteria and filtered where it comes out at shower heads and faucets. Wisely, most of those who have educated themselves are now proponents of additional upgrades or construction of new buildings at the Illinois Veterans Home.
The top priority at the home -- and for lawmakers -- must be the safety of residents and staff. Upgrades that accomplish that goal, while modernizing the home, will fulfill the state and national pledge of support for our veterans.