Last week, on January 9th, Illinois state officials gathered for a hearing on the Legionnaires’ outbreak which occurred at the Quincy, Illinois Veterans Home and has resulted in the death of 13 people since August 2015. This hearing not only discussed the causes of this outbreak and what responses were taken in its aftermath, but also reviewed next steps forward to ensure that such an incident would not happen again.
As a review, the first reported case of this outbreak at the veterans home arrived in late July 2015 with a second identified case arriving just a few weeks later. Once this second diagnosis was brought to the attention of Illinois state health officials, orders were sent out to the home’s administrators, instructing them to begin implementing specific actions in order to help prevent the its spread. Some of the measures which the home administrators were instructed to do included shutting off the use of potentially contaminated water, a move which state health officials suggest helped prevent the further spread of the outbreak.
Others, however, have criticized the response to this particular outbreak, mainly because state officials did not notify family members of residents who did not show symptoms or the general public about the reported cases for 6 days, even as home administrators were busy trying to stem the disease’s spread, a detail of the response which was not made public until a report was released in December by WBEZ-FM’s 91.5 fm. State officials, including Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Erica Jeffries, have responded that they choose to delay notifying the public and resident families who were not showing symptoms because they did not want to incite hysteria or panic while some lawmakers, such as Rep. Michael Halpin of Rock Island, have questioned why notification could not be done in a responsible manner while implementing safety measures.
Since legionnaire’s disease was discovered, the process of fully removing the Legionella bacteria and preventing further incidents has been slow and more difficult than first imagined. Indeed while most of the reported 47 cases occurred in 2015, two volunteers and three residents showed symptoms in 2016 while in 2017, five residents became sick with legionnaires with one of these residents eventually passing away.
At the start of this year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report summarizing potential methods for reducing the outbreak within the home. The report also made clear that the possibility of new cases emerging could not be eliminated.
Overall, some takeaways from this incident show that taking preventative measures is by far the most effective path forward however when a case of Legionnaires disease becomes evident, quick and effective responses are crucial to minimize damage and casualties.
Jules Zacher is an attorney in Philadelphia who has tried Legionnaires’ disease cases across the U.S. Please visit LegionnaireLawyer.com again for updates.