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IDPH accused of playing “hide the ball” with Quincy veterans’ home info

Wednesday, Feb 7, 2018

* DGA…

Today, Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration appeared before a legislative body investigating the state’s botched response to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a state-run veterans’ home in Quincy. Over three years, 13 people died. At a hearing last month, lawmakers asked the administration to turn over more information about the state’s response to the outbreak.

Well, lawmakers will have to wait longer. According to the Associated Press, Rauner’s administration required lawmakers to file public records requests, then denied the requests as “overly broad”:

    “Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah…told a joint House-Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Wednesday that Sen. Tom Cullerton’s request for communication surrounding the crisis that has led to the deaths of 13 residents and sickened dozens more is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. He used an exemption for “overly broad” requests to deny the request from Cullerton. He invited the Villa Park Democrat and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman to narrow the request.”

Today’s hearing also revealed the workers at the state-run Quincy home only learned about the Legionnaires’ outbreak through media reports. Rauner’s administration already came under fire after it was revealed the state waited 6 days before telling residents and the public about the outbreak.

“Thirteen people died at a veterans’ home and Bruce Rauner’s administration is hampering an investigation into why it happened,” said DGA Illinois Communications Director Sam Salustro. “It took a major investigation to force Rauner to even admit there was a problem at Quincy. Now it appears his administration is more interested in protecting themselves than finding answers as to what happened.”

* More from that AP story

Illinois Public Health Director Nirav Shah told a joint House-Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that his agency denied Senate committee chairman Tom Cullerton’s demand for communication about the crisis under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. […]

“I didn’t realize that as a senator, I had to file a full FOIA request for an agency that the General Assembly is responsible for doing an appropriation on,” Cullerton said.

No public body is obligated to follow FOIA. The preamble to the law states a presumption that all government records are public. The law exists to ensure that taxpayers have recourse to get public records from reticent government bodies.

“We’re asking you to answer a request to fix a problem where not just one person died … 13 people died on your watch and you didn’t fix it,” said Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat. “And you want to play hide the ball?”

* SJ-R

“My request wasn’t a FOIA request. I set it up as just a follow-up to the answer where (Shah and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Erica Jeffries) said ‘yes we will provide the information,‘” said Cullerton. “I filed a follow-up, just reminding you and saying ‘could you please provide the information?’”

When questioned by Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, on when public health would release the requested emails, Shah said they would when public officials discuss how to narrow the request with representatives of Cullerton and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“It seems to me there’s some kind of a cover-up,” said Welch. “We’re in 2018, and there appears to be way too many deaths of veterans. One is too many. And yet it seems to me that you guys are withholding information and avoiding answering questions.”

“I’m going to be very clear for the record and everyone in the gallery, too: Your assumption that there is a cover-up at play is 150 thousand percent unfounded and is wholly rejected,” Shah retorted.

There’s at least one other interesting story from today’s hearing. More later.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

38 Comments »
  1. - Jack Kemp - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:40 pm:

    So I suppose all of the Senators’s official State emails are public and they should just hand them over to anyone who asks.

    Why not? Why are they playing “hide the ball?”


  2. - Arsenal - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:47 pm:

    ==So I suppose all of the Senators’s official State emails are public and they should just hand them over to anyone who asks.==

    Probably, if 13 people die in his office.


  3. - Swift - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:50 pm:

    I think the AP writer may want to read the FOI Act, first of the presumption cited isn’t in the preamble, and there is a second sentence: Any public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt.


  4. - Sugar Corn - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:52 pm:

    Jack Kemp, If legislators request specific emails from state agency officials, they should produce them.

    Remember NRI?


  5. - Juice - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:54 pm:

    I’ll just leave this here.

    (c) Either house or any committee thereof as provided by law may compel by subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of books, records and papers.
    (Source: Illinois Constitution.)


  6. - RNUG - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:03 pm:

    == “Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah…told a joint House-Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Wednesday that Sen. Tom Cullerton’s request for communication surrounding the crisis that has led to the deaths of 13 residents and sickened dozens more is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. ==

    You don’t play those kind of games with the people who approve your budget …


  7. - Al - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:04 pm:

    One wonders if Governor Rauner’s private email account has been used to communicate regarding this important veteran’s issue.


  8. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:21 pm:

    “….150 thousand percent unfounded…”

    Shah may be a lawyer and a doctor, but he sure ain’t good at math. Hyperbole, yes. Math, no.


  9. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:23 pm:

    If the General Assembly asks for information and they are denied that information then what other conclusion are you to draw than someone is attempting to cover something up? I don’t know whether they actually are but it’s the only assumption to be made absent getting information.


  10. - Moe Berg - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:26 pm:

    Juice: exactly


  11. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:28 pm:

    Jack:

    See @Juice - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:54 pm:

    Your attempt at equivalency is silly.


  12. - Reaganing - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:34 pm:

    So they have now spent about 5 and a half hours of committee time attempting to fabricate a conspiracy out of thin air. They spent about 15 minutes today discussing how much a project would cost to renovate the facility. Even the media coverage after the first hearing was fairly mild. The legislators are really showing their true colors on this one.


  13. - Swift - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:37 pm:

    Demoralized:

    See the annotated Illinois Constitution:

    (c) Either house or any committee thereof as provided by law may compel by
    subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of books, records
    and papers.

    A 1974 Illinois Appellate Court decision held that despite this subsection, a legislative
    committee or subcommittee does not have authority to subpoena witnesses without a specific
    delegation of authority from its house.


  14. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:38 pm:

    ===5 and a half hours of committee time attempting to fabricate a conspiracy out of thin air===

    Right. Legislators can’t get straight answers from the people who were in charge when a dozen veterans and spouses died - partially because the residents and their families and the employees didn’t know they were in danger - and legislators are the ones to blame.

    Go take a nap.


  15. - Jack Kemp - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:39 pm:

    It’s not an “equivalency,” it is precisely the ask.

    “Give me all your emails.”

    If a sitting Senator can just demand that of an agency director and they’re constitutionally obligated to comply, I have no problem saying that provision of the Constitution should be changed.


  16. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:40 pm:

    ===without a specific delegation of authority from its house===

    Right. The Senate President or the Speaker have to first approve.


  17. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:42 pm:

    ==I have no problem saying that provision of the Constitution should be changed.==

    Not a big fan of oversight are you. People died and you’re throwing a temper tantrum about someone having to hand over e-mails.


  18. - Jack Kemp - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:46 pm:

    Lol. I am far from the one throwing a temper tantrum. If you paid any close attention to today’s hearing, the tantrum was being thrown by a couple of Members who were grandstanding over emails and reports they’d already seen because they’d already gotten schooled on everything else.

    I have a feeling my comments aren’t going to get much further than this so, to quote a famous shrimp boat captain, “that’s all I have to say about that.”


  19. - Swift - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:51 pm:

    Rich, if the legislators are truly trying to get to the bottom of this, why all the questions about when did the governor know?

    Unless they believe the governor can magically remove the legionella bacteria from the water and the residents, why were the primary lines of questioning about the governor?

    This ‘investigation’ is purely political, and it shouldn’t be.


  20. - Sigh - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 4:53 pm:

    —-Shah may be a lawyer and a doctor, but he sure ain’t good at math. Hyperbole, yes. Math, no——

    Shah is NOT a licensed physician. Shah was asked about being a licensed physician last spring and he said no.


  21. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:06 pm:

    Before he chooses to continue on this line, Shah might want to consult an attorney outside state government to review and determine his own personal peril.

    I’d also suggest he look at how criminal charges — including involuntary manslaughter — came to be filed against stonewalling state government officials in Michigan related to Legionairre’s deaths in Flint.

    And, for his sake, I sure hope he doesn’t think Rauner has his back. Rauner’s more of an under-the-bus kind of guy.


  22. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:06 pm:

    Sigh- Did I say anything about being a licensed physician??? He has an MD and a JD. That is all. Chill. You’re sounding like Shah did at today’s hearing;)


  23. - Arsenal - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:13 pm:

    ==if the legislators are truly trying to get to the bottom of this, why all the questions about when did the governor know?==

    Because the WBEZ reporting indicates that there were delays between when the Governor’s office was made aware of the outbreak and when anyone else- families, staff, the general public- were notified.


  24. - Arsenal - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:15 pm:

    ==He has an MD and a JD.==

    Look, I’m just saying, when the war between doctors and lawyers comes, he’s going to have to pick a side, and we shysters don’t want him.


  25. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:19 pm:

    ==why were the primary lines of questioning about the governor?==

    Newsflash - contrary to the Governor’s assertion he’s the guy in charge. It is completely relevant to ask what exactly it is he knew.


  26. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:22 pm:

    –So I suppose all of the Senators’s official State emails are public and they should just hand them over to anyone who asks.

    Why not? Why are they playing “hide the ball?”–

    Well done, sir.

    All Senators: Hand over all your emails relating to the Legionairre’s outbreak at Quincy that was kept from residents, employees, families and the public for six days.

    Happy?

    By the way, JK, your choice of handle is an abusive appropriation of the legacy of a true Happy Warrior. Halfway wack-a-doo sometimes, but the cat’s heart was in the right place.


  27. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:24 pm:

    ==why were the primary lines of questioning about the governor?==

    Probably because 13 people died after the executive branch failed to disclose the risk to those in danger.

    Do you have any more tough questions?


  28. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:25 pm:

    ==- Jack Kemp - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 3:40 pm:==

    Bruce, shouldn’t you be workin’ on presenting an actually balanced budget? Or at least not killin’ 13 more people?


  29. - AAG - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:25 pm:

    =required lawmakers to file public records requests, then denied the requests as “overly broad”=

    In case anyone wonders why some people don’t like lawyers.


  30. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:26 pm:

    ===why were the primary lines of questioning about the governor?===

    Governors own. They always do.

    Even governors who are so inept they claim not to be in charge… but they own too.

    Same as it ever was.


  31. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 5:27 pm:

    ==if the legislators are truly trying to get to the bottom of this, why all the questions about when did the governor know?==

    It’s called legislative oversight. If we want better next time, we need to know what happened last time.


  32. - Huh? - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 6:04 pm:

    “He has an MD”

    If he is not licensed, he cannot call himself a medical doctor.

    225 ILCS 60/28 Nothing in this Act shall prohibit the use of the titles “Doctor of Medicine” or “M.D.” by a person licensed in this State to practice medicine in all of its branches who has received a degree in medicine from a medical school or college … which satisfies the requirements of paragraph (a) of Section 11 of this Act, notwithstanding that such degree in medicine does not translate literally into “Doctor of Medicine” or “M.D.”.


  33. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 6:43 pm:

    Huh?- I’m not defending Shah in the least. It’s just what he has posted on the IDPH website (scroll down)-

    http://www.dph.illinois.gov/about-ipdh


  34. - Huh? - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 7:08 pm:

    If he is calling himself a physician and does not have a license, the Medical Board can cite him and fine him.


  35. - Sigh - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 7:11 pm:

    Anon221- I was just pointing out that he isn’t a physican in response to your comment. Wasn’t directing it you. But as we discuss heath issues, people assume that he is a physician bc he attended medical school and is usually referred to as Dr. Shah.

    Not today- I said last spring. Senator Rose was trying to defend him in a committee hearing last spring. The room went a little silent when Chapin asked if he was a licensed physician.

    I think it’s important to point out that he is not a licensed physician, especially when he is testifying on medical issues where people died. Heck I might as well be testifying, I didn’t go to medical school, but I could have given the same responses that he has given at the past 2 hearings :-)


  36. - Sigh - Wednesday, Feb 7, 18 @ 9:03 pm:

    I just saw this on Facebook.

    {sigh} Has anyone informed Shah that having a tone and/or disrespect for a legislator in a committee hearing is not advised?
    —————-
    “I would have done everything in my power to address that issue quickly and swiftly as the Governor has stated, and all of you have failed,” Castro said at the hearing. “Your best is not good enough, it’s atrocious.”

    “You indicated that at the last hearing, is there a question senator?” Shah replied

    http://newschannel20.com/news/local/state-senator-calls-for-resignation-of-idph-director


  37. - Anon221 - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 12:44 am:

    Sigh- Yep, Shah was very full of himself in the hearing. At one point the legislator asking a question of Jeffries told her to just ignore Shah for a moment because he kept interjecting himself into her answers.


  38. - Rabid - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 8:04 am:

    150,000% positive that you failed


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