| August 9, 2018

Illinois Faces Another Lawsuit Over Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak Death

Nqaba Matshazi

Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets... Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world.

The state of Illinois faces another lawsuit over the wrongful death of a veteran after reported Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, with his family accusing a Quincy veterans’ nursing home of failing to diagnose the disease until it was too late.

Valdemar Dehn died in October 2017 and, according to the lawsuit, Dehn’s family wants answers as to why tests for Legionnaires’ disease were not carried out on the 88-year-old Korean War veteran when doctors had ordered them.

 

Delay in testing at heart of claim

According to reports, doctors ordered a test for Legionnaire’s on October 8, 2017, but it was not done. It wasn’t until three days later, when the test was eventually executed, that Dehn tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease, and died eight hours later.  

Dehn’s son, Matthew, is demanding $100,000 for pain, suffering, and grief, citing negligent maintenance of the facility’s water system and related infrastructure that led to his father’s death. Dehn’s family is also suing Zorian Trusewych, the medical director of the veterans’ nursing home, over the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the home.

In an interview with News Channel 20, Laurie Niego, an attorney representing Dehn’s son, said the Dehn family “wants to see this issue resolved or some sort of steps taken so that other people in the VA aren’t experiencing or being open to having this type of issue occur to them.”

Illinois has faced criticism on how it has handled the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and a director of Veterans’ Affairs, Erica Jeffries, resigned over the issue.

Initially, the former Veterans’ Affairs director said Dehn’s death was not linked to Legionnaires’, but an Adams County coroner attributed the cause of death to bronchopneumonia due to Legionnaires’, WBEZ-FM reported.

More lawsuits haunt Illinois

This is the 12th lawsuit that the state has faced over Legionnaires’ disease. This comes after an outbreak of the infection that has been linked to 13 deaths and 64 infections since 2015. However, the state has denied responsibility for all the cases so far.

A cause for concern is that the Quincy veterans’ nursing home experienced three outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease between 2015 and 2017, which poses the question, why wasn’t more done to prevent these fatalities?

In January 2018, another family accused the state of Illinois of not doing enough to prevent the death of a 78-year-old woman at the Quincy Veterans’ Affairs home. Like the Dehns, families of 11 other residents who died of Legionnaires’ disease at the facility are also suing the state, claiming a delay in diagnosing the patients and that treatment was not started early enough.

The lawsuits could shine an unwanted spotlight on Governor Bruce Rauner’s office, as he is yet to sign into law new measures that would lift the maximum payment in wrongful deaths lawsuits to $2 million from the current $100,000, the lowest amount nationwide.

The Illinois House and Senate have voted to lift the cap, but Rauner is yet to sign the measures into law, leading to J.B. Pritzker, his Democratic opponent in this year’s gubernatorial elections, accusing the governor of “fatal mismanagement” in the Legionnaires’ outbreak.

The state carried out renovations on plumbing installations at the Quincy veterans home in 2017, but earlier this year, the US Centers for Disease Control warned that the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease may never be fully removed from the Quincy veterans’ home and there could be more outbreaks of the disease.

A task force set up by the governor in May recommended that the home be rebuilt and Illinois may have to front more $200 million for the task.

Legionnaires’ disease cases on the rise

Legionella bacteria

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria, which causes pneumonia, and is contracted by the inhalation of water carrying Legionella. Elderly people, those in poor health, and people over 50 are at greater risk of infection. The CDC says Legionella is found in freshwater bodies but can become a cause for concern if it grows and spreads in man-made water systems like plumbing systems.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported in January that at least 300 cases of Legionnaires’ disease had been diagnosed statewide in 2017, adding that the incidence of the disease was on the rise nationwide.


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