A recent investigation into a pneumonia death in Flint has demonstrated the need for hospitals to release Legionella test results and for diligent testing of patients at risk for Legionnaires’ disease.
In a June 28 article for Bridge Magazine, Chastity Pratt Dawsey reports on the case of Bertie Marble. Mrs. Marble, a 68-year-old resident of Flint, Michigan, passed away in March 2015 after a spell of ill health. During her final stay at McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint, Mrs. Marble was diagnosed with “healthcare-associated pneumonia”. McLaren had found Legionella bacteria in its water system in late 2014 but had not revealed this information to the public and did not take steps to test at-risk patients for Legionnaires’ disease.
Mrs. Marble was 68 years old and suffered from renal failure and diabetes—she was the type of patient most at risk for acquiring Legionnaires’ disease, according to CDC guidelines . In addition, she had previously been hospitalized at McLaren during the period when Legionella had first been found in the water. Health providers at McLaren, however, did not attempt to test her for the disease until she was too frail to provide a urine sample.
Mrs. Marble’s four children are rightfully outraged at the hospital’s silence about the presence of Legionella. If they had known about the presence of the bacteria, they say, they would have taken her to another hospital. They will now never know whether their mother’s illness could have been treated with antibiotics. This case draws attention to both the risk of misdiagnosis and to the need for public disclosure of Legionella test results. Had McLaren provided information about the bacteria earlier, simple cleaning could have averted risk of infection and lives could have been saved. Because the hospital concealed the presence of the bacteria, though, Mrs. Marble’s family is left without answers, and it will remain unclear whether her death should be counted among the 12 other deaths in the Flint Legionnaires’ outbreak.