Duckworth, Durbin demand health head quit

Senators point to emails showing Rauner’s Director Shah helped hide a botched repair that led to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home

 Sen. Tammy Duckworth joined her senior colleague Dick Durbin in calling for the resignation of a Rauner administration official over the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth joined her senior colleague Dick Durbin in calling for the resignation of a Rauner administration official over the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Illinois’s two U.S, senators called for the resignation of the state’s director of public health after emails showed he joined in the Rauner administration’s cover-up of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin issued a joint statement Monday charging: “There was definitive evidence that a serious public health crisis was underway at the veterans’ home in Quincy in 2015, and the Rauner administration and Director (Nirav) Shah chose to sit on their hands as veterans and staff at the home fell victim to these deadly bacteria.”

Their statement cited a new report by Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ 91.5-FM, which has led the way in the investigation into the repeated Legionnaires’ outbreaks at the Quincy veterans’ home. Reporters Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold obtained a 2015 email from Shah showing that the state botched the repair of coal-fired boilers at the home.

According to Shah’s email, water was left stagnant in a broken boiler during repairs for more than 30 days, thus creating a “broth of legionella.” Once repairs were completed, “rather than emptying the tank and refiling it, they just applied steam, brought it up to 115 (degrees) and distributed it for normal use throughout the facility.”

 Emails show Public Health Director Nirav Shah could have issued a public citation on a botched repair that led to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home, but he didn’t and kept it quiet. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Emails show Public Health Director Nirav Shah could have issued a public citation on a botched repair that led to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home, but he didn’t and kept it quiet. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

The 2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak killed 12 people at the home, which has been plagued by periodic outbreaks since.

Shah called that “a citable offense” in that email, but the home was never cited, and the Rauner administration waited days after the outbreak before informing the public — another detail previously reported by ‘BEZ. According to the station, a Rauner press secretary explained the delay in an email by stating: “I do not think we need to issue a statement to the media. Let’s hold and see if we receive any reporter inquiries.

Durbin and Duckworth issued a blistering response this week, stating: “It’s an outrage that time after time the governor and his team prioritized public relations over protecting vulnerable veterans, their spouses, and staff at IVH Quincy. Director Shah’s response to this tragedy reflects the height of irresponsibility and negligence, and it’s time for him to go.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced last month she was launching a criminal investigation into the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at the Quincy home.

Gov. Rauner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.