In charging Michigan’s public health chief and four others with involuntary manslaughter, Attorney General Bill Schuette has refocused attention on why it took a year or more for state and county officials to alert the public about a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area.
Officially, 12 people died and nearly 100 were sickened by a Legionnaires’ outbreak that first appeared in Genesee County in 2014, at roughly the same time that lead began to poison the drinking water supply in Flint.
But as Bridge reporting has revealed, the government’s slowness to take action on Legionnaires’ may well have led to many more deaths. Experts told Bridge that some among nearly 200 deaths attributed to pneumonia in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015 were likely undiagnosed cases of Legionnaires’. The cases likely went undiagnosed, the experts said, because for nearly two years neither McLaren Flint, a major hospital in Flint, nor county or state health officials ordered routine testing of the increasing number of pneumonia patients for Legionnaires’, even well after becoming aware of a Legionnaires’ outbreak in 2014.
On Wednesday, Schuette invoked official inaction on Legionnaires’ in announcing an involuntary manslaughter charge against Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, as well as against former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water head Liane Shekter-Smith and Stephen Busch, the district supervisor for the state’s Office of Drinking Water.
Bridge Magazine’s Chastity Pratt Dawsey investigated the response of state and county government and local hospital officials to the Legionnaires’ crisis in a series of reports. Read them here to get an accounting of the government’s actions leading up to this week’s charges: