AFSCME welcomes lawmakers’ involvement in Quincy Veterans’ Home crisis
AFSCME submitted written testimony to the Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees on January 9 regarding the health crisis at Quincy Veterans’ Home.
After three years of Legionnaires disease outbreaks at Quincy Veterans’ Home, 13 residents have lost their lives and numerous residents and employees have also been stricken with the disease. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Administration has been under fire for mismanagement of the situation, especially as the state failed to notify families in a timely manner.
After a WBEZ radio investigation into the persistent presence of the Legionella bacteria in the home’s water system and Rauner’s poor handling of the crisis. Fortunately, this media spotlight has drawn the attention of Illinois state legislators and U.S. senators.
Testimony was presented by the Directors of the Illinois Departments of Public Health and Veterans’ Affairs at the Jan. 9 hearing.
AFSCME’s written testimony focused on three main points:
- Dedicated employees: AFSCME Council 31 represents nearly 350 Quincy Veterans’ Home employees who have remained dedicated to the health, safety and wellbeing of the more than 300 residents they serve, despite contracting and being in danger of contracting the disease themselves. The first outbreak in 2015 affected 53 people at the home, six of which were employees. AFSCME members remain committed to doing whatever it takes to make Quincy Veterans’ Home a safe place to live and work.
- Lack of transparency: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs consistently refused to share information with employees or the union from the outset of the outbreaks, ignoring all efforts by AFSCME members to provide input on addressing the problem. The union was forced to seek information directly from the CDC and the county health department because the state was largely unresponsive to its requests for information. The Rauner Administration also refused the union’s proposal of a Legionella Committee at the home.
- Closure would be harmful: While there were some calls to close the more than 130-year-old veterans’ home, most now see that even a temporary closure could cause more harm than good to residents. There are not sufficient beds at other state veterans’ homes, and privately-run homes don’t have as high standards for patient care, or testing and reporting of Legionella bacteria. And finally, the trauma of transfer elevates mortality rates among the elderly.
The occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease at the Quincy Veterans’ Home has been a source of great anxiety for AFSCME members who are dedicated to caring for residents. Employees welcome the increased scrutiny by lawmakers and look forward to working toward a better future for the home and the people it serves.
AFSCME plans to testify at the next legislative hearing on the crisis, which is set for January 23 in Springfield.