Three years ago this month, the Legionnaires disease crisis claimed a dozen lives at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. Today, as plans to build a new vets’ home in Quincy take shape, an Adams County man who lost his father to Legionnaires’ disease at the home speaks to WGEM News for the first time.
Speaking at his home in Fowler, Illinois, it’s been a painful week for Tim Miller. He showed us photos of his father Eugene Miller from his days in the U.S. Army.
“This one is my dad, right after he got out of boot camp,” Miller said. That was in 1946. Eugene Miller served in Germany as a mechanic after the end of World War II.
Decades later, Miller spent the final two years of his life at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. On August 28, 2015, after suffering from dementia, fever, dehydration and other symptoms, Miller died at age 86.
“We left Blessing Hospital with the belief that our father was at the end of his life,” Tim Miller said. “In fact, my brother’s last words were – ‘we did everything right, right? And I said ‘yeah, we did. and less than 24 hours later we get a phone call asking if they could test him for Legionnaires?’ ”
Eugene Miller tested positive for Legionnaires’ and official state emails later revealed at the time of his death, the state knew for nearly a week it was dealing with a Legionnaires’ crisis at the vets’ home.
“And we actually saw the dates of what was done and said, it just brought it home to us,” Miller said. “Our dad could have maybe had a different outcome had we known that information when our dad was sick and beginning to show signs.”
Legionnaires’ disease killed 12 veterans at the vets’ home residents in 2015, sickened more than 60 others and led to further cases in the years that followed.
During a visit to Quincy last week, the governor sat down with WGEM’s Gene Kennedy. There was no discussion about notification of families but the governor reiterated that the state followed all CDC guidelines after learning about the crisis.
“Our team has done, by in large, an excellent job,” Rauner said. “People aren’t perfect, occasionally they stumble here and there but the reality is we’ve done everything we were asked to do, immediately.”
When Miller heard that statement, he decided to speak out.
“What I think it really gets down to, the hardest thing is that he (Rauner) doesn’t want to give any thought to the fact that maybe the ball was dropped in a big way and that people died because they didn’t know what was going on,” Miller said. “It’s really a hard pill to swallow to see him say ‘we did it right, we did what we were supposed to do’ because that’s not the case.”
The Legionnaires’ crisis has led Illinois to build a new veterans’ home in Quincy. The master plans are being finalized now.
“It’s absolutely wonderful .. we want to move forward. We want to see the home built. We want to know that veterans are gonna be safe,” Miller said. “But what we don’t want is for what happened in 2015 to be forgotten and swept under the rug.”
The Miller family is one of several suing the state of Illinois for negligence and Tim Miller said their case is still pending.
Meanwhile, Miller said he supported Bruce Rauner for governor in 2014 but is not supporting Rauner’s reelection bid because of how the state handled the Legionnaires’ outbreaks at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.