Dear Governor Rauner:
I took notice of your week-long stay at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. You could’ve just done the easy thing and popped by for a quick photo op while promising to fix the nursing home facility where bacteria-contaminated water caused three outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease over as many years—killing 13 and leaving dozens of elderly veterans critically ill. Instead you showered, slept, and ate there (how was the meatloaf?). You pledged to replace the pipes and do other upgrades to the nursing home’s infrastructure.
That’s great, Bruce. Is it OK if I call you Bruce?
Some of your political opponents have called your unusual decision to lodge in Quincy “a cynical and transparent publicity stunt.” They note the conspicuous timing, following a WBEZ report about the crisis. Plus, you’re deep in campaign mode—locked in a billionaire-versus-billionaire battle against J.B. Pritzker. But I refuse to believe that you camped out at the vet facility just because of the potential political fallout. Sure, you didn’t want to be the next Rick Snyder, the Michigan governor haunted by the drinking water crisis in Flint (where deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease have also killed at least a dozen over the last few years). But you were genuinely concerned with some ailing vets, I bet.
Surely this has nothing to do with your ties to a federal nursing home trial from 2014, right? While you were still candidate Rauner, the private equity firm GTCR you retired from in 2012 was linked to shady nursing home chain Trans Healthcare, Inc. A federal bankruptcy judge accused your old company of orchestrating a “bust out” scheme to let the business die and evade liability for at least $1 billion in alleged wrongful death and abuse suits on behalf of the estates of elderly victims. You downplayed your role in Trans Healthcare and denied wrongdoing. The accusations that you let GTCR play vampire to 200 nursing homes around the country—plundering them and causing care to deteriorate and residents to die—that was just your opponents playing politics, right? Just like now you’re being blamed for letting Illinois’s elderly care facilities rot.
I know you’ve got a big ol’ heart, so I’ve got an idea for your next sleepover. My grandmother has been living in the Mosaic of Springfield for more than a year. It’s a for-profit nursing home—part of a network that includes three facilities in the Chicago area—that gets Medicare and Medicaid funding. It’s rated “poor” by U.S. News and World Report, which considers health inspections, nurse staffing, and measures of medical quality of care.
Of the dozens of complaints lodged against the Mosaic to the Illinois Department of Health since 2014, one of them is mine. I called back in December 2016 to complain that the staff had neglected my 89-year old grandmother in multiple harmful ways. The most egregious failure: not changing her diet to soft foods after a fall left her weak and hurt. The staff continued feeding her what amounts to grade school cafeteria food—e.g., chicken nuggets and hot dogs—even after members of my family and I made multiple complaints. Already petite when she was admitted, she stopped eating, lost 12 pounds, and grew much weaker. A staff member discussed putting her in hospice and letting her die after the facility effectively starved her. I called the state to intervene. The Illinois Department of Health sent an inspector shortly after my official complaint. The facility changed my grandmother’s diet and she eventually recovered. But the facility is still incredibly poorly run, as are the other Illinois Mosaic locations: the Mosaic of Uptown is also rated poor and the Mosaic Lakeshore in Rogers Park is rated “below average,” according to U.S. News and World Report.
So, Bruce, you should stay the Mosaic in Springfield for a week and see for yourself. The location is close to downtown, a short walk from the Governor’s Mansion. I suggest you bring a shovel to help clear the ramp leading to the entrance of the building. When I picked up my grandmother on Christmas Day, the ramp still hadn’t been cleared of leaves that had fallen months ago. A thick layer of ice on the ramp made navigating it dangerous.
I’d ask you also take a side trip to Oak Terrace in Springfield, the nursing home where my great-grandfather once lived, but that place closed suddenly in September due to unpaid debt to the IRS and other creditors. I know you love markets and the privatization of just about everything, but Oak Terrace’s bosses quietly mismanaged the place and then violated state law by closing the facility’s doors without warning. On September 7, elderly residents were literally kicked out of their homes and onto Springfield’s streets. My sister-in-law, who works in another local nursing home, told me her facility was overwhelmed trying to accommodate several newly homeless senior citizens on an emergency basis.
Here’s the thing: the state’s nursing home crisis extends far beyond Quincy. But I know you’ll visit all of them throughout Illinois, because you’re an honest, straightforward guy, right? Just because you’re a superrich North Shore venture capitalist with expensive taste in wine and upscale real-estate doesn’t mean you’re not who you say are in campaign ads. You’re just an everyman clad in a black leather jacket and blue jeans, cruising around the state on your Harley-Davidson—a man who’s decided to roll up his flanneled sleeves and fix the state’s myriad problems. So keep on truckin’.
Oh, one more thing: Be a peach and stay a week at all of our state’s mental health facilities, prisons, and public schools, and fix those too, will you? I’d be forever grateful.