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Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak in Nursing Home Likely to Lead to Lawsuit

The family of a woman who died recently at a nursing home in New York after testing positive for Legionella now say they intend to sue the facility. 

The 86-year-old woman died in late October, just days after her son was told she had contracted the bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease. At the time, the patient had reportedly been battling several bouts of what was though to be pneumonia. She was hospitalized several times, with the hospital finally releasing her back to the nursing home with regrets there was “nothing else they could do for her.”

Plaintiff, through his attorney, expressed outrage to staff writers at the Saratogian that so little attention is paid to this serious problem in nursing homes. If there were an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in schools or workplaces, there would be outrage. Instead, it seems nursing homes too often get a pass for failure to prevent the spread of infections disease and harmful bacteria. Too often, it probably goes unnoticed. But in this case, it was known and there were no repercussions, until plaintiff filed this lawsuit. There were four reported cases of the disease just at this one facility at the same time, including three patients and one staffer. The health department is conducting an investigation to determine the exact source of the outbreak.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Legionella is a type of bacterium that lives in freshwater environments, such as lakes and streams. However, it can become a health concern when it grows and then spreads to human water systems, such as hot tubs, plumbing systems, hot water tanks/ heaters, cooling towers or decorative fountains. It grows the best in warm water. Contaminated water is breathed in through small droplets in the air. It can also sometimes be spread when contaminated drinking water “goes down the wrong pipe,” and makes its way to the lungs rather than the digestive track. 

Usually, Legionella isn’t spread from one person to another, though it’s not impossible.

The disease has symptoms that mirror those of pneumonia. These may include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches

It’s treatable with antibiotics. Most of those who catch the disease have to be hospitalized, but they usually make a full recovery. However, 1 in 10 will die from the infection.

Those most at risk of developing the disease and/ or suffering serious side effects from it include:

  • People over the age of 50;
  • Current/ former smokers;
  • People with chronic lung diseases;
  • People with weak immune systems;
  • People who take drugs to suppress the immune system.

All of this means nursing home patients may be particularly vulnerable both to catching the disease and dying from it. As it stands, pneumonia is the No. 1 cause of morbidity and mortality in nursing home patients.

A 2005 study published by the American Geriatrics Society indicated Legionnaires’ disease is a “notable problem” in acute care settings, with this bacteria reportedly contributing to about 15 percent of facility-acquired pneumonia cases. However, there may be a significant number of Legionnaires’ disease cases that go unrecognized because the symptoms aren’t distinct. Diagnosis of the condition requires specific tests that usually aren’t available at long-term care facilities.

In the New York case, plaintiff’s attorney said the nursing home negligence theory would likely be based on the assertion that facility staffers failed to follow appropriate standards in routinely testing certain equipment for the disease and to comply with stringent cleansing protocols.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Lawsuit likely in Legionnaire case in Saratoga Springs, Nov. 21, 2016, Staff Report, Saratogian

More Blog Entries:

Nursing Home Neglect Alleged in Death of Couple, 91 and 92, Nov. 28, 2016, Orlando Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog

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