Bridge explains how a Legionnaires’ outbreak led to this week’s stunning manslaughter charges

flint water tower

Government health officials and a local Flint hospital did not routinely begin testing pneumonia patients for Legionnaires’ disease until well after the outbreak was known to them.

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:

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 06/14/2017 - 4:22pm

Falsifying records.

Recording missing from a "break-in"

The signs so far are pointing to something far more serious than a simple case of bungling bureaucrats.

And AG Schuette's (in)action regarding this case leads me to believe that his plan of action is to have the principles die of old age long before they ever see the inside of a jail cell.

I understand that it would be a little awkward for a man in his position, to say nothing about his run for Michigan Governor, hauling in a sitting republican governor in on charges. But given the number of public officials charged at this point, I cannot help but wonder how far this case really goes.

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 9:33am

This looks like a political stunt to me. Help Schuette get elected. The Misconduct in office charges are a no brainer and long overdue. Involuntary manslaughter? That requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and per other press reports "Researchers and experts in the field have speculated that the Legionella bacteria may have thrived in Flint's water system after the city's water source changed to the Flint River in April 2014 because of low levels of chlorine and high levels of iron.". Speculation is not even enough for a conviction, and when Schuette announced the charges he could not seem to use the term "peer reviewed" enough, and he pretty much ignored the term evidence. A Republican using "peer reviewed" with regard to scientific research would be impressive, but evidence would mean much more in a legal setting.