First Legionnaires' Lawsuit Filed Against Sound Shore
Hospital awaits more actions after outbreak of Legionnaires’
The Journal News
In thrice-weekly trips to the dialysis center at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, Stephen Burke does not recall ever feeling the spray of water vapor from a cooling tower near the hospital entrance.
His wife, Bridget Burke, did wonder, though, why the unit, part of the hospital air-conditioning system, was on the ground and not the roof.
“Those systems are always high up,” she said yesterday.
Health officials believe just walking by the cooling tower, which emitted a fine mist of water, may have been enough to sicken at least 20 people with Legionnaires’ disease since late June, among them Stephen Burke. Bacteria that cause the illness were found in the tower, which has since been replaced.
Lawyers for Burke yesterday filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of the hospital. It was the first legal action to emerge from the outbreak and likely not the last.
Sal Schilliro, a Sound Shore spokesman, said the lawsuit was not a surprise. “I think there’ll be a batch of them,” he said.
William Groner, the White Plains lawyer representing Burke, said Sound Shore should have taken measures to guard against a Legionnaires’ outbreak, particularly since dialysis patients are vulnerable to infection.
“It’s very inexpensive to test and to treat,” Groner said. “Since the ramifications of failing to do this are so serious, it would make sense that there would be absolute regular testing, treatment and protocol to prevent this type of serious outbreak.”
The hospital has said it tested the cooling tower for Legionella bacteria in May, and the test was negative. “Then they should be testing instead of quarterly or monthly, biweekly,” Groner said.
New state guidelines require only hospitals with transplant units to test regularly for Legionella bacteria. The bacteria were identified in the Sound Shore tower after the outbreak there came to light. Testing is being done to determine conclusively if the tower was the source of the infections.
All of the 20 people identified with Legionnaires’ were either going to Sound Shore for outpatient treatment or just walking by the Washington Avenue entrance, according to health officials. All were said to have underlying medical problems.
Stephen Burke, a 64-year-old New Rochelle resident who retired as a meter-reading supervisor for Consolidated Edison, has kidney failure and has been going to the Sound Shore dialysis center for three years.
He felt ill on the weekend of July 9-10, wanting to sleep constantly. After dialysis treatment on July 11, he went to the Sound Shore emergency room and was admitted to the hospital.
Bridget Burke said her husband had a high fever and was lethargic and disoriented. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, and doctors told her it was Legionnaires’ disease. Burke was discharged from the hospital on July 18 but is still not feeling himself.
Bridget Burke said her husband had no appetite, had lost some 15 pounds and was exhausted just by showering.
“He’s like a zombie,” she said.
The couple said they likely would have to cancel a planned trip to their native Scotland in late August. “I just keep hoping that tomorrow I’ll feel better, but so far it’s not happening,” Stephen Burke said.
All of the 20 people identified with Legionnaires' were either going to Sound Shore for outpatient treatment or just walking by the Washington Avenue entrance, according to health officials. All were said to have underlying medical problems.