McCann calls for public health director's resignation during hearing on Quincy Legionnaires' outbreak
Sen. William "Sam" McCann (R-Plainview) called for the resignation of Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah earlier this week during a Senate-House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing regarding the Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home.
“To all of you listening out there, isn’t ironic that we have people living in that facility that have survived the battlefield but they may not survive us,” McCann said to Shah and the veterans who were watching the hearing live from the Quincy Veterans Home.
While other Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) and Rep. Randy Frese (R-Paloma), questioned Shah and Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Jeffries for more than two hours, McCann came out and told Shah it was time for him to go when discussing the outbreak caused 13 deaths at the site since 2015.
“Dr. Shah, I am going to ask you if you would have done anything differently over the last three years,” McCann asked.
Shah said it would be to work more closely with the Senate Veterans Committee when an outbreak occurs, which he said the department is doing now. That is when McCann wanted to know Shah’s exact job description, which Shah answered in detail.
“Would it be safe to say that you are our state's chief public health office?” McCann asked.
“Yes, I believe that is accurate,” Shah answered.
McCann noted that though Shah is technically the governor’s employee by appointment, his job can be questioned by the General Assembly.
“While we know that the governor picked you and hired you and we expect you to be a good employee to your employer, we also want to know, especially when it comes to public health, because we are talking about life safety,” McCann said, noting there are 12.8 Illinois citizens whose lives are in the hands of the public health department.
“We want to make sure you are the kind of man, or woman, who comes before the committee and Senate, and when push comes to shove that you will put people before politics and that you will put people before your paycheck,” McCann said. “Quite frankly sir I don’t think you have done either.”
McCann said many Quincy Veterans Home employees have stated on the record they were not even notified of the outbreak until the press reported the issue.
“I have called for your resignation Dr. Shah and I call for it again, and if you won’t provide it, I will call on the governor to relieve you of your duties,” McCann said.
Prior to McCann calling for Shah’s resignation, Tracy asked Jeffries about the possibility of relocating resident veterans from Quincy to the adjacent closed Sycamore Nursing Home, which according to the senator is an aging facility built in 1973 and a concern in regard to Legionella developing.
“We might run into similar situations in moving a very vulnerable population that might put those veterans at risk,” Tracy said.
Though Jeffries agreed with Tracy, she said the Sycamore facility was considered with staff members in mind, “which is critical to the importance of their care when we talk about transfer trauma in moving veterans or any skilled nursing patient off of their normal care environment.”
Frese wanted to know prior to the 2015 outbreak what the water-management system program consisted of, and Jeffries told him there has always been an oversight testing system in place, specifically from the state department of health and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
“As long as we were able to show that we had clean water and that we were handling protocols as outlined by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), then we did not have any further requirements,” Jeffries said.
Frese noted that since 2015, “the water-management plan has advanced drastically,” and he wanted confirmation that Jeffries was testifying that in August 2105 there was an 84 percent detection of Legionella in the Quincy piping system, and now it is at 2 percent.
“That is remarkable,” Frese said.
Frese wanted to know if it would ever be likely to find out what happened in 2014 that would cause the deadly outbreak, to which Jeffries said officials are researching the cause and will continue to do so as requested.