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Families blame state in veterans home Legionnaires' outbreak

QUINCY, Ill. (AP) — Eleven families are suing the state for negligence saying a fatal Legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2015 and continued problems at a western Illinois veterans' home were preventable.

The families, who spoke to Chicago's WBEZ , are seeking changes to the state-run Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, where the outbreak two years ago killed 12 and sickened dozens more. Despite pledges from Gov. Bruce Rauner to fix the problem, about half a dozen new Legionnaires' cases since then.

"When's it going to stop?" said Jana Casper, a daughter of World War II veteran Gerald Kuhn, who died in the 2015 outbreak. "How many more people are going to have to die before they can get to the bottom of what's causing it?"

Rauner, a Republican who took office in 2015, said in a Wednesday statement that his administration is "deeply concerned" and has taken critical steps, including following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

"We are committed to ensuring the residents get the care and treatment they deserve in a safe living environment," Rauner said.

The bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease grow in warm water and are often present in water supplies. The veterans home underwent a nearly $5 million rehabilitation of its water treatment plant after the 2015 outbreak.

Experts have praised those changes, but still call the continued problems with Legionella bacteria "troubling" and "unusual." Several people contracted Legionnaires last year.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did commend Illinois' action plan, officials found the home's plumbing system still poses a "potential risk" for the disease and "completely eradicating Legionella is very challenging."

Meanwhile, both Democratic U.S. senators from Illinois called for a review of leadership at the facility. Sen. Dick Durbin wants the facility closed until the water system is safe, something Secretary of State Jesse White echoed Wednesday.

"As a veteran, I find it especially frustrating that people who served our country should have to deal with this outrageous situation," White said in a statement.

Calls for further investigation and independent audits grew on Wednesday, both from Rauner's GOP challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives, and Democratic rivals in the March primary.

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