June ljana, deputy secretary for communication at the California Department of Veterans Affairs, has alerted the media that a resident at the Veterans’ Home in southwest Fresno has been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia that is particularly deadly within healthcare environments.
The veteran, positively diagnosed on Wednesday, January 3rd, is currently being treated at the VA Hospital. It has not yet been determined whether he contracted the illness at the long-term care facility or whether he was exposed to Legionella pneumonia bacteria in the outside community.
Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis, occurs when people inhale or aspirate into their lungs water vapor contaminated with Legionella pneumonia bacteria. Although this bacteria occurs naturally in the outdoors environment, it becomes dangerous to humans when it proliferates in the undermaintained water systems of buildings; common sources of the disease include cooling towers, decorative fountains, ice machines, showers, hot tubs, and spas.
Not everyone who breathes contaminated water droplets will become ill, but the disease can be life-threatening when it infects people who are over 55, smokers, or those with chronic medical conditions like respiratory disease / COPD, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer – as is the case with many of the residents of Veterans’ homes.
Legionnaires’ Disease in Veterans’ Homes
The risk that Legionnaires’ disease poses to Veterans’ home residents has received national attention over the past few years as numerous outbreaks have been reported at these facilities. A serious outbreak sickened more than 29 people, killing at least 5, at VA Center Pittsburgh between February 2011 and November 2012. Other VA-associated outbreaks have occurred at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City, Colorado, a VA hospital in Brockton, Massachusetts, and – perhaps most notably – a particularly deadly outbreak in 2015 at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy, Illinois that made more than 50 people ill, killing 12 (11 residents and 1 visitor).
When the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak was identified at Quincy, authorities sourced the disease to the aging facility’s decaying plumbing system. This campus, founded in 1886, is the oldest Veterans’ home facility in the state of Illinois. After the outbreak, the state authorized and installed a $5 milllion-dollar water purification system at the facility.
“The state has implemented a robust and comprehensive water management plan including the construction of a new water management plant and routine testing of the water at the facility … The CDC in its most recent report said the remediation is ‘aligned with the best practices identified in CDC’s water management toolkit.’”—Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois
Despite this system, cases of Legionnaires’ disease continue to occur at the residence – two residents contracted the illness in October 2017 and a third in November 2017; one of these people died.
Unlike the Illinois Veterans’ Home, the 300-bed long-term facility in Fresno is modern – built in October 2013. No other cases of Legionnaires’ disease among its residents have as yet been reported.
Can I File a Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuit Against a Veterans’ Facility?
Yes, you can in many cases. As the Herald-Whig reported this week, 10 families of the Quincy victims have filed lawsuits against the state of Illinois, and an 11th lawsuit is anticipated. These are all individual claims – generally a more effective legal strategy than a class action suit since each victim of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak is uniquely harmed.
The claims made by these lawsuits include the charge that the Illinois Veterans Home knew about the Legionella contamination before July 2015 but did not alert its residents, and also that at least two residents who developed the symptoms of legionellosis were never tested by medical personnel. Six of the lawsuits claims that the facility failed in its duty to maintain a safe environment for its residents in not testing and maintaining its water systems or providing adequate chlorination.
A Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit against a state in connection with a Veterans’ home Legionnaires’ disease outbreak can involve complex medical and legal issues. We recommend you contact a Legionnaires’ disease lawyer to help you understand and protect your legal rights.