Pa. hospital sued in Legionnaires' outbreak

January 02, 1998

Pa. hospital sued in Legionnaires' outbreak


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The survivors of three women and two men who died as a result of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak at Chambersburg Hospital in July 1995 are among 21 parties suing the hospital and its maintenance contractor claiming negligence.

The parties filed a joint lawsuit in Franklin County Court and their attorney, Albert L. Parisi, of Rochester, N.Y., has requested a jury trial in the county Court of Common Pleas.

Parisi could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit only specifies that the suing parties are seeking more than $25,000.

Some of the parties included in the lawsuit are those who became ill with the disease and claim they've suffered permanent physical damage.


The lawsuit also claims the hospital and its maintenance contractor, ServiceMaster, were negligent in testing and treating two rooftop cooling towers where tests found the Legionella bacteria.

A letter from The Keeler Co., dated April 1994, has been filed as evidence in the lawsuit. It states that the cooling tower treatment program "has fallen into disarray" and there is a concern for equipment damage and uncontrolled microbiological populations.

The lawsuit also claims the hospital was slow to inform the patients and public about the disease.

The first patients checked into the hospital on July 4, 1995. On July 10, the hospital reported Legionnaires' disease to the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Three days later, hospital officials announced the outbreak to the public and the disease claimed its first patient, Dorothy E. Hetzel, 83, of Chambersburg.

The delay caused "inadequate and improper treatment that caused severe injury and death," the lawsuit states.

Thought the hospital usually refrains from comment on pending litigation, at the request of legal counsel, hospital spokeswoman Sheran White said, "In 1995, we believe we handled the matter with the utmost responsibility and with the best interest of the community and our patients in mind. We will continue to do what's right in the future."

Chambersburg Hospital was determined to be the likely source of the Legionnaires' outbreak since tests confirmed the bacteria that causes the disease was present in the two cooling towers and in the air, as well as in five of the 14 confirmed Legionnaires' patients at the time, according to an announcement made by hospital officials on July 26, 1995.

Legionnaires' bacteria breeds in warm water. It is not spread person-to-person but by inhaling the bacteria which is transmitted in airborne water particles that come from a water source such as lakes and ponds or large air-conditioning systems or cooling towers, according to state health officials.

The state averages about 120 Legionnaires' disease cases every year, the vast majority occurring as single, isolated cases not associated with any recognized outbreak, said Bruce Reimer, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Health.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people develop the illness each year in the United States, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease was named after a famous outbreak in Philadelphia in 1976 when people attending the state convention of the American Legion at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel contracted the illness. Of the 182 who became infected, 29 died. The cause of the outbreak was traced to the hotel's air conditioning system.

The Herald-Mail Articles