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MDHHS points finger again at McLaren-Flint in deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The state health department is out with a new report on the deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County.

The Michigan Department Health and Human Services makes an old claim linking most of the legionella cases to Flint’s McLaren hospital.

The report says most of the 90pneumonia-like cases between 2014 and 2015 can be traced to McLaren.

The report's key findings:

  • No other large building with high risk plumbing was identified as a common source of exposure.
  • Of the 83 patients for whom a complete exposure history was available, 54 (65 percent) case patients had hospital building exposure.
  • 51 of 54 (94 percent) case patients with hospital healthcare exposures were at McLaren Flint Hospital.
    • 46 of 54 case patients (85 percent) were exposed only to McLaren Flint.
  • Of the 32 cases who did not have a McLaren Flint health-care associated exposure, only nine lived on Flint water.

An MDHHS spokeswoman says the new report is being published now because it has just become available.
"MDHHS committed to further reviewing the Genesee County Legionnaires’ disease cases during 2014 and 2015, in part to determine if cases were returning to baseline levels in 2016 and 2017," says MDHHS spokeswoman Angela Minicuci. "As a result of that review, MDHHS compiled the chart book. Due to the Protective Order and subsequent data sharing issues, as well as new information that was gathered regarding the 2014 and 2015 cases, this review was not completed sooner."

But a McLaren spokesperson slammed the report. Spokesperson Laurie Prochazka says "the state’s conclusions continue to be premised on a flawed methodology."

“We find the timing of the state’s release today to be an interesting coincidence as the first phase of the criminal proceedings against MDHHS leadership winds down,” says Prochazka. “Initial review of the report reveals no new information regarding our community’s epidemic of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014 and 2015, but reflects the state’s normal pattern of attempting to shift liability away from those criminally charged.”

The new report comes as a criminal probe into Flint’s water crisis is reaching a milestone for a couple top health department officials who face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the Legionnaires' outbreak.

Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells and MDHHS Director Nick Lyon are waiting to see if judges will decide whether there is enough evidence to send charges against them, including involuntary manslaughter, to trial.

Special Counsel Todd Flood says pneumonia deaths rose 400 percent during the Flint water crisis, suggesting the increase was tied to the city’s drinking water source switch.

The health department disputes that figure. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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