Jules Zacher, Esq. is currently representing a patient of Miami Valley Hospital who contracted Legionnaires’ disease during his stay in the hospital’s new patient tower. As of March 11, 2011, 10 patients of Miami Valley have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease and one has become ill with Pontiac Fever, a milder strain of legionellosis. So far, the following information can be confirmed.
1. On December 28, 2010, Miami Valley Hospital began moving patients into the new patient tower, which houses the Heart and Vascular Center. At an undetermined time before the tower was opened to patients, the hospital flushed the plumbing of the addition, which is proper procedure following construction.
2. On February 3, 2011, the first case of Legionnaires’ disease was confirmed.
3. On February 17, 2011, the second case of Legionnaires’ disease was confirmed.
4. On February 19, 2011, the third case of Legionnaires’ disease was confirmed.
5. On February 20, 2011, the fourth case of Legionnaires’ disease was confirmed.
6. On February 22, 2011, the hospital implemented water restrictions and a program of disinfection involving hyper-chlorination of super-heating of the water system in the new patient tower.
7. On February 25, 2011, Miami Valley Hospital’s water was declared safe.
It is not uncommon for cases of Legionnaires’ disease to follow episodes of major construction. Legionellae bacteria occur naturally in the environment, so when construction breaks up soil containing legionellae, the disturbed bacteria can settle in the new building’s water system. Legionellae thrive in areas of warm, stagnant water, and are fed by the dust and dirt of a construction site. It is essential, therefore, to flush the plumbing of a new building in order to thoroughly remove dirt and bacteria that may have settled there.
Miami Valley apparently completed this important step, yet legionellae still found their way into the new patient tower’s water system, resulting in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease among several patients. Not every case was diagnosed at the same time, however, as the timeline above demonstrates. The first case of Legionnaires’ disease was confirmed on February 3, 2011; at this point, the hospital should have acted immediately to curb patients’ potential exposure to bacteria in the water system and thereby prevent additional cases. But the hospital waited until three more cases were confirmed – three weeks later – before it restricted water use and disinfected the system. If Miami Valley had responded more quickly and attentively to the first diagnosis, 10 of its patients would not have been infected with the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.