Brace yourself for a flood of TV campaign ads and mailers seeking to capitalize on the deadly serious health issue the Quincy Veterans Home has been grappling with since 2015.
Wednesday offered a preview of what’s to come in this election year, as politics trumped policymaking when Illinois lawmakers held a hearing to grill Rauner administration officials and assign blame, some of it deserved, for the handling of a persistent health crisis that continues to threaten the American heroes who live at the oldest state-owned veterans care facility in Illinois.
Meanwhile, J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic gubernatorial front-runner, lost no time in releasing an ad attacking Gov. Bruce Rauner for 13 deaths at the home linked to the presence of Legionella bacteria in the water supply, and the GOP governor was giving a press conference with Quincy residents as a backdrop to tout his seven-night stay at the home as proof that his administration’s efforts have made it safe to live there.
In short, it was a good day for politicians, but not really for the folks who live at the Quincy home and have made it clear they do not wish to live anywhere else. Or for the families of those who have died during three separate outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease.
They all are why it’s essential that the rush to make political hay over the crisis does not derail efforts by state and federal leaders to combine forces to defeat the health-care risk there, once and for all.
Why should a voter in, say, the Quad-Cities, Springfield, Peoria, Decatur, or Chicago care about a facility so many miles away?
Politics are a big part of the equation, to be sure. But more importantly, the fate of the residents should matter to everyone in this state. After all, the facility is owned by Illinoisans and the 400 vets and spouses who make their home there come from all over our state. According to its website, “over 70 of the 102 counties in Illinois are represented within the current membership” of the home.
The folks who live there know that although politicians have only recently discovered the crisis, the community, the facility, and state agencies have been working to fix it since a July 2015 outbreak sickened 53 people and led to 12 deaths.
But if you listened to some politicians and pundits far away from the problem, you might think nothing had been done about the bacteria lurking in the home’s miles of old iron pipes, and that nothing more can be done, so the home must be shuttered.
Fortunately, some leaders have begun to listen to those who know the story behind the headlines. Among them is U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who had called for the home’s closure after a Chicago radio station report put the issue in the statewide spotlight. We were pleased that after a visit to the home, he pledged to work to get federal help for upgrades that will allow it to remain safely open.
That needs to be everyone’s focus. We shouldn’t shutter the home based solely on what we know now. More fact-based information is needed.
Let’s get answers and develop a comprehensive plan for attacking the problem and then work arm-in-arm across government jurisdictions and party lines to find the dollars needed to fix the problem.
If we can fix what’s broken by replacing miles of old iron pipes, do it. We’re not the experts. But they’re out there. This cannot be the only old public building with these issues.
If it turns out that the best answer is to build a new facility on the same site, and move residents over once it’s completed, do that.
Find out what works, and do it, politics be damned.
How can you help? When you encounter politicians who have made the crisis campaign fodder, hold their feet to the fire and ask what they’re willing to do about it.