Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has announced that her office will be launching a criminal investigation into whether the Rauner administration improperly handled the Legionnaires’ disease crisis at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy, IL.
Were the Deaths Preventable?
Legionnaires’ disease – caused by deteriorating plumbing at the Quincy facility that created an environment for the growth of the waterborne bacteria – has caused the deaths of 13 veterans and sickened at least 61 others at the Illinois Veterans’ Home since 2015.
On October 3, 2018, Madigan’s office announced a criminal investigation into the response of Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration to Legionnaires’ disease crisis. The investigation follows a report by radio station WBEZ-FM 91.5 alleging that the administration withheld information from the public that potentially could have saved lives.
The State of Illinois has turned over nearly 50,000 emails to WBEZ since May in response to the station’s open records request for communications related to the crisis. According to the WBEZ report, the Rauner administration waited weeks and sometimes months to acknowledge individual cases of Legionnaires’ disease at the nursing facility.
“We are investigating whether any laws were violated in the response to the risks of and outbreak of Legionella at the Quincy Veterans’ Home, where many people died,” said a Madigan spokesperson. “There needs to be an investigation to determine if laws were violated and whether residents of the home, their families, veterans’ home staff, and the public were informed in a timely and appropriate manner.”
Emails Support Criticism of Rauner Administration
The report is far from the first to slight Rauner’s handling of the crisis. For years, his administration has received criticism for waiting to inform families and the public of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. The emails obtained by WBEZ, however, seemed to provide new, more concrete evidence of the Rauner administration’s delayed response in the matter.
For example, in one email to state officials, former Rauner aide Lindsay Walters wrote, “I do not think we need to issue a statement to the media. Let’s hold and see if we receive any reporter inquiries.”
Prior to the announcement by the Attorney General’s Office, Democratic Sen. Tom Cullerton issued a statement that compared the outbreak to the water crisis in Flint, MI and called for an investigation into possible “criminal neglect.”
“Gov. Bruce Rauner prioritized political games over the lives of our US servicemen and women and staff at the state-run veterans’ home,” Cullerton said. “If residents, loved ones, and staff had all of the facts, better decisions could have been made that would have saved lives.”
The announcement from Madigan’s office came hours before the second gubernatorial debate, in which Democrat JB Pritzker slammed Rauner, saying that he and his administration should be held accountable and that the families of the victims “deserve justice.”
For his part, Rauner denied any mismanagement and claimed that “We took action immediately to protect our veterans and our staff.”
According to Madigan’s office, there is no timeline for how long the investigation will take, and it remains unclear whether it will be completed before the election on November 6.
Surviving family members of the veterans have filed twelve separate claims against the state government for negligence. However, Illinois law requires such cases to be filed through the Court of Claims system, which caps the maximum award at $100,000.00.
Recent legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly, largely in response to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, would have raised the cap to $2 million in most cases – but it was vetoed by Gov. Rauner.