* WBEZ has obtained internal state e-mails about the 2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Quincy veterans’ home. You should read the whole thing and we may circle back to this again today, but here’s one excerpt that jumped out at me…
A previously undisclosed email chain involved deliberations over the crafting of an Aug. 27, 2015 press release issued jointly by the state Veterans’ Affairs and Public Health departments confirming eight cases of Legionnaires’ at the home. By that point, the state had known for six days it had an “epidemic” on its hands.
The day before the press release went out, part of the email chain included a draft release and messaging bullet points, including one from Yantis, the Veterans’ Affairs spokesman, reinforcing that “there is no cause for alarm; this is a manageable situation and we are focusing talents, efforts and appropriate resources to meet the needs.”
The draft release ended with a rundown of how staff at the facility had cleaned ice machines and common bathing and shower areas, among other things, to try and kill the waterborne bacteria that causes Legionnaires’.
The head epidemiologist at Quincy’s Blessing Hospital, where many of the Legionnaires’ victims were taken for testing and treatment, questioned that phrasing in an email later that night.
“The last paragraph sounds like the cleaning is a new activity; did they not clean these before and what did they do as a result of the first cases in July? A smart reporter will eat the spokesperson alive,” emailed Dr. Robert Merrick.
“They should have had you write the release,” Merrick continued in his note to the hospital staffer. “Overall I think it is poorly written, confusing and in my view just a smoke to cover peoples [sic] butts.”
The press release later issued publicly by the state had the reference to cleaning removed.
* Meanwhile, here’s the political react. Biss campaign…
Daniel Biss released the following statement in response to the latest WBEZ story revealing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s failure to acknowledge and address the Legionnaire’s crisis at the Illinois Veterans Home.
“Bruce Rauner was apparently more interested in avoiding another PR crisis than doing his job and addressing the crisis that cost veterans their lives. When he had the opportunity to protect our veterans and prevent their untimely deaths, he chose to look the other way. It’s irresponsible and immoral—and entirely disqualifying.”
* Ives campaign…
“The contents of these emails confirm our worst fears and suspicions about this Governor. It is not that he was inept, an outsider trying to figure his way around state government. But that he and his administration were as cold and calculating at they seemed. These emails revealed that they were more concerned with appearances, status and protecting their seats of power, than they were with people who were suffering – and, in this case, dying. Those who had taken ill in the Illinois Veterans Home were discussed as political obstacles, instead of people in need of care. No one should be treated the way these men and women have been treated, least of all veterans and their families who have served their country and sacrificed in ways most of us cannot imagine.
“I’ve asked before, ‘What the hell is wrong with this Governor?’ This morning, I am afraid we know.”
* Pritzker campaign…
“Bruce Rauner put managing headlines above managing the care of our nation’s heroes,” said JB Pritzker. “As Legionnaires’ spread in the Quincy Veterans’ Home, the Rauner administration moved quickly to stop the public relations crisis while leaving Veterans and their spouses behind. This is what failed leadership and fatal mismanagement looks like. Illinois Veterans deserve better than a governor who refuses to take charge and has no regrets after 13 Veterans and spouses died on his watch. When I’m governor, I will treat our Veterans with the dignity and respect they deserve.”