Second lawsuit filed over Legionnaires’ outbreak at Mount Carmel Grove City

Second lawsuit filed over Legionnaires’ outbreak at Mount Carmel Grove City

Source:, June 15, 2019
By: Kevin Stankiewicz

A second lawsuit against Mount Carmel Grove City hospital was filed Friday by one of the 16 people who contracted Legionnaires’ disease there.

The negligence lawsuit comes a day after Mount Carmel said the disease outbreak originated in the facility’s hot water system and resulted from inadequate disinfection.

Anna Hillis, 59, of Grove City, contracted Legionnaires’ disease while visiting her brother-in-law at the hospital, according to the lawsuit filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Hillis spent time at the hospital between May 14 and 16, often sitting below the air conditioning vent in the patient’s room, the lawsuit says. Hillis also washed her hands a few times.

Hillis began showing symptoms of the severe form of pneumonia on May 25. Her Legionnaires’ disease diagnosis was confirmed on June 4. She is still using supplemental oxygen therapy, the lawsuit states.

“I was shocked and wasn’t sure how serious it was until they started talking about it,” Hillis said Friday at the Brewery District office of her attorney, David Shroyer. Hillis said she started feeling weak, with pain in her abdomen, and told her sister, “Something’s not right.”

Here’s what we know about the Legionnaires’ outbreak, two weeks after it was announced:

Could there be more cases?

It’s possible the number could rise from at least 16 confirmed cases, but after Saturday, the likelihood of new diagnoses dramatically decreases, officials say. Legionnaires’ disease has an incubation period of up to 15 days, and Mount Carmel implemented its water-use restrictions on May 31. Saturday is the 15th day, hence the expectation that nearly all cases will be known by then.

Franklin County Public Health says there were diagnosed patients each from Columbus and Franklin Countyh, one from Pickaway County and one from out of state.

Mount Carmel is not monitoring any possible cases, which in an indication there might not be any new diagnoses, said Dr. Tammy Lundstrom, chief medical officer for Mount Carmel’s Michigan-based parent company, Trinity Health.

What was the source?

High concentrations of Legionella bacteria in the hot-water system explains why those who got sick weren’t confined to only one area of the seven-floor hospital.

It meant that people throughout the building were at risk of being exposed, both on patient-care floors and in other areas of the hospital.

Any place where someone washed their hands, used the bathroom or showered could have been a source of contracting the disease, Lundstrom said.

Why did it happen?

Mount Carmel officials said they believe the reason for the outbreak was “inadequate disinfection” prior to the hospital’s opening. What that means, exactly, is less clear.

The hospital’s water system was disinfected in phases, with some portions in February and others April. Areas treated in February weren’t disinfected again before the new hospital opened on April 28.

Tim Keane, a Legionella expert and Mount Carmel consultant, said multiple factors led to the Legionella bacteria growth.

“The disinfection procedure didn’t resolve those issues,” he said.

Why not?

Keane didn’t say there were errors in the disinfection process. But he did say sometimes one disinfection isn’t enough.

Keane said Mount Carmel is investigating “every area” of the process — including the length of time between when the system was disinfected and when the hospital opened — to find the root cause. He didn’t comment on whether errors in construction of the $361 million hospital contributed to the outbreak.

Government regulations don’t require hospitals to explicitly test for Legionella, a policy Keane said should be changed.

Is the water safe?

Temporary water filters are still in use, but those will be removed over time as Mount Carmel has installed a secondary treatment system that constantly adds a dose of disinfectant into the water as its permanent solution.

The disinfectant is called chloramine. It’s not as potent as chlorine, Keane said, but it’s highly effective because it stays in the water system for up to 36 hours. Chlorine, which will still be used, can be gone in hours.

What have been the consequences?

Of the 16 patients who contracted the disease, one has died: 75-year-old Deanna “Dee” Rezes of Grove City.

Mount Carmel is facing at least two lawsuits, and the hospital saw a decline in visits after the week of the outbreak, the hospital’s president Sean McKibben said Thursday.

The number is rebounding this week, he said.

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