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Quincy veterans’ home e-mails show how administration tried to manage PR

Wednesday, Feb 28, 2018

* 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.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:34 am:

    The emails reveal the Rauner administration scrambling mightily to contain a potentially explosive outbreak of news stories.

    A public health epidemic endangering old veterans, not so much.

    You can see why the Rauner crew has been sandbagging the press and GA for years. I’m sure that will continue.

    But they’ll have no choice but to produce every single document and email when those eleven neglect lawsuits against the state reach the discovery stage.

    Just from what we’ve seen so far, the state is going to get tuned up big-time on those. And rightly so.

    Meanwhile, new cases continue to occur, and the state has a new “task force,” 2.5 years after the first cases.

    Perhaps these new revelations will spark some interest by the responsible authorities as to a criminal neglect investigation.

    I would think after 13 deaths and more new cases that would be a given.

  2. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:37 am:

    This has the feeling that the Rauner administration is far concerned about the PR than the veterans?

    Hard not to read it as such.

  3. - Rutro - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:38 am:

    I want to snark BTIA, but it’s really sad. My reaction to this continues to be, someone needs to go jail for this.

  4. - don the legend - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:45 am:

    These 10 year old tapes continue to give Rauner a lot of cover for his Legionnaires nightmare.

    Smart campaigns would use ads, surrogates, victims families (with their consent) and anything else to hammer Rauner day after day for his complicity in this tragedy. Put faces and stories with the Legionnaire victims like they do with other tragedies.

    Make voters see and realize Rauner’s direct responsibility.

  5. - Retired Educator - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:48 am:

    The Governor and his entire crew are worthless. Fighting a PR war while veterans are dying should put someone in jail. This should be the end of the road for Rauner. I don’t know how anyone could cast a vote for him. All of us are veterans or have some in our family. These people could be your relatives.

  6. - Sugar Corn - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:48 am:

    Were Rauner’s top people engaged and attentive to this outbreak? If not, why not?

    What the heck were highly paid “superstar” staff like Richard Goldberg, Mike Z, Jason Barclay, Linda Lingle, David Wu etc up to during this time?

    Did they just punt everything to the Veterans and Public Health departments to sort out? Where was the leadership?

    The more that is revealed on this the worse it gets.

  7. - walker - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:52 am:

    Ives has got one heck of a communications staff. Her written attacks hit the mark.

  8. - RNUG - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 9:57 am:

    The cover-up gets you every time.

    Tie this in with Rauner’s previous nursing home history and the attack ads write themselves.

    We’ll be hearing about through November (and we should …)

  9. - Nick Name - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:09 am:

    Hello, Pritzker crew? Pritzker crew, hello?

  10. - Anon0091 - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:17 am:

    This is really bad. Shockingly bad. Priorities all messed up. Best quote is from a nonpolitical person - Dr. Robert Merrick:

    “Overall I think it is poorly written, confusing and in my view just a smoke to cover peoples [sic] butts.”

    Absolutely right. These Rauner seem to care about their press, not so much about their problems.

  11. - Norseman - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:20 am:

    I’d love to pile on and tweak Rauner, but it’s not unusual for agencies to develop a PR effort relating to an issue. However, I can’t say there were no lines crossed in this effort because I haven’t read the entire chain.

    To me, the issue is the appearance of a bungled response and the withholding of information to prevent appropriate legislative oversight.

  12. - Barrington - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:22 am:

    Not sure why this is not a national issue, as the death toll is very high . I continue to be outraged about this. I am amazed that this gets so little coverage while what someone said ten years ago is all over the news. Stupid comments more important than lives.

  13. - Langhorne - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:25 am:

    We did an excelent job.
    Wouldnt do anything differently.
    These things happen.
    Never been happier.

    But hey, billion dollar tax cut is on the way.

  14. - mama - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:25 am:

    “Perhaps these new revelations will spark some interest by the responsible authorities as to a criminal neglect investigation. ”

    “I would think after 13 deaths and more new cases that would be a given.”

    Word, I agree with you. There should be charges filed on behalf of the people that died.

    Does the buck stop with the state or the feds?

  15. - Swift - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:59 am:

    Wordslinger and mama, what are the criminal charges? Failure to send out a press release?

    WBEZ seems to only focus on the press release, but if you read the emails they received, and chose not to focus on, you see Veteran’s Affairs and Public Health taking immediate steps to protect the health of residents once the 2nd case is confirmed.

    I get it, an article on water testing, new shower heads, and epidemiology isn’t as enticing as the perceived drama behind crafting a press release, but the press release, or lack thereof, didn’t stop the 2015 outbreak, but the actions of DVA and DPH implementing protective measures did keep more people from getting sick and dying.

  16. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 11:18 am:

    ===taking immediate steps to protect the health of residents once the 2nd case is confirmed.===

    Except, you know, notifying residents, their families, the public and staff of a growing problem.

  17. - older n wiser - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 11:30 am:

    Pat Quinn tried to tell ya during the 2014 election…
    When Bruce Rauner owned nursing homes, bad things happened.
    Bad things happen to people when Bruce Rauner is in charge.

  18. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 11:39 am:

    I noted this in the WBEZ story: “Along with that news came word from the home of three previous Legionnaires’ cases, dating back to July.”

    And in the email chain: “…what did they do as a result of the first cases in July?”

    July? This raises even more questions. Cases in July? What was the response in July? The focus has been on the August outbreak, but it looks like the whole thing began in July. Did this come to the attention of the Gov’s office in July? Did they investigate the water supply in July? Contact the CDC in July? This just keeps getting worse.

  19. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 11:44 am:

    –what are the criminal charges? Failure to send out a press release?–

    Let’s see all the communication in those six days after the first case was discovered when they didn’t notify residents or families.

    –..but the actions of DVA and DPH implementing protective measures did keep more people from getting sick and dying.–

    What the heck are you talking about? Dozens got sick, and cases continue until today.

    Sick spin, dude.

  20. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 12:00 pm:

    Rauner should resign immediately, and then head to confession, but he won’t. It was just another nursing home to him, and we already know his record with those. As for now, the state needs to get everybody out of there.

  21. - DuPage - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 12:30 pm:

    It looks like the ice machine cleaning was done in reaction to people getting sick. Ice machine cleaning and sanitizing is supposed to be done on a regular basis, and is required by federal regulation. Someone should demand the records of the ice machines cleaning and sanitizing, along with records of the purchases of the proper cleaning and sanitation chemicals. If the cleaning was done by outside contractors, all records should be produced. If the ice machines were not being cleaned and sanitized properly, was it because the contractor or cleaning chemical supplier was not paid?

    From an ice machine article: === “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code is the standard. Chapter 1 part 1-201.10 defines ice as food. This mandates ice to the same handling and cleanliness standards as everything else in retail food, including manufacturing equipment. Ice itself falls under 40 C.F.R. 141 governing drinking water purity. Ice machine cleaning is governed by Food Law 2009 Chapter 4 part 602.11 section (E) item (4a and b), which states that the machines must be cleaned “at a frequency specified by the manufacturer,” which in most instances ranges from two to four times per year, or “at a frequency necessary to preclude accumulation of soil or mold.” Ice machine sanitizing is governed by Chapter 4 part 702.11, which states that the ice contact surfaces must be sanitized after each cleaning. Annex 7 Form 2A section 5 states: Federal law provides under the Criminal Fine Enforcement Act of 1984 for a fine up to $100,000 for a misdemeanor by a corporation or individual not resulting in death and, for misdemeanors resulting in death, a fine of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations. The bottom line is that cleaning and sanitizing the ice machine on a regular basis is required by law”===

    Entire article here-

  22. - IllinoisBoi - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 12:36 pm:

    In a just world, this issue would sink Rauner. But the world isn’t just, and it probably won’t. Shame on all of us.

  23. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 8:58 pm:

    ==Let’s see all the communication in those six days after the first case was discovered when they didn’t notify residents or families.==

    Not six day, over a month. The first cases were in July.

  24. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 28, 18 @ 10:34 pm:

    Pot, I saw you spotted that after I posted. That new timeline is bombshell, incompetent cover-up stuff.

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