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Legionnaires in Nursing Homes

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Outbreaks & Recalls on September 27, 2018

It’s happened again: Legionnaires’ disease has infected a nursing home! Legionnaires in Nursing Homes is a major issue that is growing. This time, Summit Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Providence, Rhode Island, is in the spotlight. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, they have confirmed three cases of Legionnaires’ disease at the center. This isn’t the first time that this disease has affected similar institutes.

Legionnaires in Nursing Homes

The bottom line is that nursing homes could do a lot more in the way of protecting their patients from catching Legionnaires’ disease from the contaminated water systems within their buildings. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), back in 2015, an analysis of nearly 3000 Legionnaires’ illnesses found that 553 cases were either definitely or most likely caused by the patient being in some sort of healthcare facility, such as a nursing home or hospital. 66 of the 553 patients ended up dying from the disease.

According to CDC director, Anne Schuchat, Legionnaires is “widespread, it’s deadly, and it’s preventable.” Since Legionnaires’ disease is much more likely to affect elderly persons over the age of 50, people with compromised immune systems or preexisting health conditions, as well as smokers, many people residing in a nursing home are highly susceptible to the disease! The CDC explains on it’s website that, “Many people being treated at health care facilities, including long-term care facilities and hospitals, have conditions that put them at greater risk of getting sick and dying from LD.”

The CDC’s Thoughts

In the CDC’s opinion, nursing homes should be doing more to prevent their elderly, high susceptible residents from contracting the disease. They should be working harder to keep this bacteria from reaching places that patients are exposed to, especially showers, sinks, bathtubs, hot tubs, and any other medical equipment that utilizes water.

The CDC website goes on to explain,

Legionella grows best in buildings with large water systems that are not managed effectively. CDC outbreak investigations show that effective water management programs can help prevent problems that lead to LD. These actions reduce the risk of Legionella growing and spreading in building water systems. Health care facility leaders should be aware that LD is a risk in their facility. They can take action to prevent infections.


And according to Schuchat, “We know if those facilities have an effective water-management system they can prevent these infections. Nobody wants their loved one to go into a hospital or a long-term care facility and end up with Legionnaires’ disease.”

The CDC offers a list of ways for healthcare professionals to improve the state of their water systems in order to best protect their residence:

  • Build a team focused on keeping their facility’s water safe.
  • Create and use a water management program to limit Legionella and other waterborne germs from growing and spreading.
  • The agency can work with healthcare providers to identify LD cases early.
  • The agency can determine if the cases are associated with a particular healthcare facility.
  • Report LD cases to local public health authorities quickly and work with them to investigate and prevent additional cases.

They go on to explain that leaders might include: infection control practitioners, facility managers, hospital administrators, and quality assurance staff.

Safer Facilities Needed

But even with this information, many nursing homes and hospitals fail to provide adequate, safe environments for their patients. An additional report investigated 6,079 cases of Legionnaires’ disease that occurred nationwide in 2015. It focused on 2,809 of which that occurred in a narrowed-down area. They believe 468 of these cases began in a healthcare facility. And they proved 85 were. The report confirmed 80% of cases were in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes.

“This analysis has uncovered a problem that is happening every day in health care facilities around the country and something we can do a lot about,” Schuchat said. “This report suggests that in many healthcare facilities, there’s really just an outbreak waiting to happen.”

What Happened in Rhode Island?

A place where patients go to find supported health and rest resulted in a life-threatening form of pneumonia. Three cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported their illnesses to the health department. The agency confirmed their exposures occurred at Summit Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center. According to Joseph Wendelken, the spokesman for the agency, health providers diagnosed the cases in mid-August and early September. Due to privacy laws, Wendelken said that he was unable to comment on the health of the cases. They agency confirmed the bacteria location. They confirmed this does not put the general public at risk of infection.

The Rhode Island Department of Health has said that they have advised the health facility to seek remediation.  According to Wendelken, the center hired a contractor to implement the steps to control the outbreak and help solve the contaminated water issue. Wendelken said, “They’ve treated the water, they’ve adjusted the chlorination in the water to kill the bacteria in addition to installing filtration systems throughout, and they’re going to be doing ongoing sampling to make sure that treatment is working.”

He went on to explain that the bacteria does not cause illnesses in most people. The disease mainly infects susceptible hosts.  “Legionnaires’ disease can be very serious for certain types of people, over the age of 50, people who are smokers, people with underlying lung conditions or underlying medical conditions,” Wendelken said. “If they do [get sick], and if the illness is diagnosed, it’s usually treated with antibiotics.”


Legionnaires’ disease is a serious health condition. Therefore, people should be reporting their illnesses and seek professional treatment as soon as possible. Why? First, early treatment can help protect a patient from possibly fatal consequences. Nursing homes and hospitals must improve their water systems in order to protect residing patients. Patients need to respond quickly signs of disease and seek quick treatment. If you or anyone you know is experiencing Legionnaires’ symptoms, be sure to see your healthcare provider as quickly as possible.

Our Legionnaires’ Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed Legionnaires’ disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires’ Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)