The families of 11 seniors who died after widespread outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease at an Illinois home for veterans are suing the long-term care facility for negligence.
Since July 2015, the disease has killed 13 residents and sickened at least 61 residents and workers at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, Ill., according to a new investigation from Chicago public radio station WBEZ.
Legionnaires’, also called legionellosis, is a type of pneumonia that typically spreads through the inhalation of waterborne bacteria. Quick diagnoses and antibiotics are usually enough to treat the disease—but that’s something employees at the state-run facility failed to do, the residents’ families alleged in their lawsuits.
“When’s it going to stop?” Jana Casper, daughter to one of the deceased residents, said in an interview with WBEZ. “How many more people are going to have to die before they can get to the bottom of what’s causing it?”
Dick Durbin, a senior Democratic senator for the state of Illinois, has also called the ongoing ordeal a “scandal,” and said officials should close the facility until its water system is deemed safe.
The Illinois outbreaks are among many that have hit the skilled nursing industry in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year singled out skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) as potentially prime breeding grounds for Legionnaires’ disease.
The CDC analyzed 2015 data related to outbreaks of the potentially deadly disease, looking at a total of more than 2,800 cases from 20 states and the District of Columbia. Of those cases, 85 were “definitely” related to exposure at health care facilities, with an additional 468 instances that were “possibly” related to stays in SNFs, hospitals, or other institutions, it found.
One way to combat the spread of Legionnaires’ disease is to develop water management policies specifically aimed at preventing outbreaks. Frequent testing for bacteria is another way.
Those efforts are often easier said than done, however. One problem is that SNFs are generally older than other properties in the long-term care space, and upgrading an existing facility with disease-fighting design features like copper fixtures or negative airflow systems could prove costly.
Still, preventing the illness, which can claim lives and cost operators hundreds of millions of dollars annually, can be worth the added expense if done correctly.
Written by Tim Regan