Bacteria Has Nursing Home Facing Down a $278M Fix

A recurring Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at an Illinois nursing home for veterans has caused deaths, lawsuits, and political trouble for Gov. Bruce Rauner. And now a preliminary report shows that fixing the problem at the Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy could stick the state with a hefty bill.

Task forces convened by the Rauner administration released an initial estimated repair cost of $278 million, the Associated Press reported Tuesday — a price tag that includes $6.8 million for the construction of a temporary facility that would house residents during the overhaul.

Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory illness caused by bacteria that thrives in water, has claimed 13 lives at the facility since 2015; families of 11 of those seniors have sued the state. In response, Illinois officials installed a new water filtration system at a cost of $6.4 million, and Rauner spent a week living in the home in January to prove its safety.

“I’ve drunken the water from the sinks, as well as other sources,” Rauner said at the time.

But more cases have sprung up since the fixes, prompting officials to explore wider-ranging solutions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year singled out skilled nursing facilities as breeding grounds for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’, pointing to data that showed SNF stays were either “definitely” or “possibly” to blame for 553 cases in 2015.

Legionnaires’ causes 40,000 hospitalizations per year for a total Medicare and Medicaid cost of $430 million, according to a 2012 study, with a potential per-patient cost of $38,000 on the facility level. The CDC noted that 85% of those cases stem from preventable problems with facilities’ water systems, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) last year directed all Medicare-certified facilities to develop water management policies.

Dispute over price tag

Renovating existing physical plants can be costly, and the operators of the Illinois facility have to contend upgrading a 130-year-old building to meet modern standards. But some lawmakers disputed the $287 million price tag reported by the AP.

“I think it’s jumping to conclusions to say how much it would cost,” State Sen. Jill Tracy told the (Quincy) Herald-Whig. “This is a draft, and it shows the costs and the advantages and disadvantages of each option.”

For instance, replacing the plumbing system alone would cost $16 million, with an additional $4.5 million to drill a new water well, the Herald-Whig reported. Full new residential construction, meanwhile, would set the state back $220 million to $250 million.

“People love the simple math of just adding all the numbers and using the highest number if there’s a range of possible costs,” Rauner senior advisor Mike Hoffman told the paper.

Written by Alex Spanko

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Alex Spanko
Alex covers the skilled nursing and reverse mortgage industries for Aging Media. Outside of work, he reads nonfiction, yells at Mets games from his couch, and enjoys pretty much any type of whiskey or scotch — often all at once.

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