Colonial Acres Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

A years-long Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at Colonial Acres assisted living facility in Humboldt, Nebraska includes illnesses and fatalities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed in a recent emergency order. People get Legionnaires’ disease when they inhale water vapor contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

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Emergency Order

Although Legionella are found in nature, they grow best in warm stagnant water of manmade structures. Outbreaks are often linked to commercial plumbing systems, cooling towers, fountains, and hot tubs.

The EPA issued the emergency order on May 21, after state health officials asked the agency to step in following years of failed attempts to correct the problem while the illness and death toll climbed. The order requires the City of Humboldt to:

  • Issue a public notice about the presence of Legionella in the water at Colonial Acres and the risk that it poses
  • Implement Legionella mitigation measures at Colonial Acres and provide the EPA with a description of the steps taken
  • Install a water disinfection treatment system at Colonial Acres that will control Legionella contamination
Legionnaires' disease

Years-Long Outbreak, Insufficient Response

Located in southeastern Nebraska, Humboldt has a population of 800. The city owns Colonial Acres which operates a 49-bed, long-term care unit and 16 assisted-living apartments. It also provides physical inpatient and outpatient therapies.

Since 2020, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) has been working with the facility on a comprehensive water management plan which was supposed to include ongoing monitoring and preventative measures such as flushing the system and Increased water temperature. The plan also calls for the installation of point-of-use filtration devices, temporary shock chlorination, and the use of bottled water when Legionella is detected.

In September 2022, Legionella was detected in the water and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) joined the effort to mitigate contamination. Colonial Acres Administrator Betsy Packett told the Omaha World-Herald that the facility took various measures such as flushing the water lines, chlorine shock treatments, replacing fixtures, adding a hot-water recirculation pump, and turning up the temperature on the water heater. The increased water temperature required the installation of mixing valves on each fixture, she told the paper. Filters were also installed on shower heads but were later removed because they decreased water pressure, needed to be replaced every three months, and were expensive, she said. However, they were reinstalled after a death was reported in March 2024, she said.

The EPA stated that in March 2024 Colonial Acres wasn’t using a disinfection treatment for the water supply.

Illnesses and Deaths

Neither Colonial Acres, nor state health officials would confirm the total number of illnesses and deaths, citing patient privacy reasons. There have been at least four illnesses and one death, but the EPA emergency order references multiple fatalities.

According to a records review by the Omaha World-Herald, seven Legionnaires’ disease deaths were reported in Nebraska from 2020 to 2024. Three of them occurred in the Southeast District where Humboldt is located. No other district reported more than one death during that time period, the paper reported.

After the death in March 2024, state health officials gave Humboldt two options, chlorinate water for the whole town or chlorinate the water going into Colonial Acres. After a May 14 city council meeting adjourned without committing to either option, NDHHS called the EPA for help. The emergency order was issued on May 21 and approved by the council the following day.

Experienced Legionnaires’ Disease Lawyers

The Pritzker Hageman Legionnaires’ Disease lawyers recently won a significant recovery for the family of a woman who died from Legionnaires’ Disease. One of the first steps you should take after being diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease is to consult with an experienced lawyer. For a free consultation with one of our lawyers, please call 612-338-0202, text 612-261-0856, or fill out the form below.

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