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The Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ) continues to come under heavy scrutiny after three more cases of Legionnaires’ disease were confirmed this month. All three residents who were infected are recovering and stable.
The outbreak is the fourth in four years at the long-term care and living facility in western Illinois.
The Illinois Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday calling for an audit of the state’s response to the outbreaks. The resolution, which was passed unanimously (46-0), designates the Illinois auditor general to perform an examination of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and its management of the outbreaks, which continue to plague the IVHQ even after more than $6 million in upgrades to the water system.
The IDVA has announced that it would boost disinfection levels in the water to reduce potential exposure for residents and staff. The following preventative measures also have been enacted:
- Laminar flow devices – filters that reduce the aeration of the water as it flows from the faucet – are being installed on all sinks.
- Bathing by residents has been limited to showers, which are protected with Legionella-blocking Pall filters.
- Temperature checks will be conducted every two hours while residents are awake, and vital signs will be recorded every four hours.
There were six confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease at IVHQ last year. One of those six died, increasing the number of Legionnaires’ deaths to 13 at the facility since 2015. There were more than 50 illnesses and 12 deaths during the 2015 outbreak.
IVHQ eradication may not be possible
Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) returned this week to the IVHQ to review testing protocols for individuals with respiratory illness, at the request of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
The CDC warned last month in a 20-page report that the “complete eradication of Legionella in any large, complex building water system may not be possible.” The information was compiled in response to last year’s outbreak at the IVHQ.
Despite efforts to eliminate Legionella from the IVHQ, the ST36 strain of the Legionella bacterium has been identified in the facility’s water system each of the past three years.
“There is no known safe level of Legionella in building water systems, and cases have been associated with very low levels of bacteria,” the CDC report concluded. “It is probable that this strain persists in protective biofilm, scale, and sediment that are present in the plumbing infrastructure.”
Looking for answers at IVHQ
In December, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (Dem.) called for the closure of the IVHQ. In January, he changed his mind.
“I don’t believe (closure) is necessary as long as we have a plan to move forward to make it even safer,” Durbin told the Chicago Tribune. “At the time that I made the statement, there was no plan in place, no suggestion of a plan.”
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (Rep.) stayed at the facility for a week in January to show his commitment to finding a solution. The governor showered and drank tap water every day during his stay.
Afterward, Rauner announced the state would replace the plumbing at the 130-year-old site. He said he would assemble a task force to determine if a state-of-the-art dorm should be built, and whether a safer groundwater source was available.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is also called Legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection.
According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) happen annually in the United States. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.
Ten percent of those infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.
How do you catch Legionnaires’?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (usually mist or vapor). The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.
Outbreaks have been produced by a range of sources:
- cooling towers in air conditioning systems
- large plumbing systems
- water systems like those used in hospitals, nursing homes and hotels
- hot tubs and whirlpools
- equipment used in physical therapy
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers
- hot water tanks and heaters
- showers and faucets
- swimming pools
- decorative fountains.
Who is susceptible?
Anyone can get the disease, but those at the highest risk of infection include:
- people 50 years old or older
- smokers, current and former
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- people with chronic lung disease
- people with weakened immune systems
- recipients of organ transplants
- individuals who are following specific drug protocols (such as corticosteroids).
Another illness in Illinois
The Illinois Department of Human Services announced Wednesday that a patient at the Chester Mental Health Center had contracted Legionnaires’ disease. The patient is being treated and is stable in the southern Illinois facility, the state’s only maximum-security forensic mental health facility for adult males