The family of an 86-year-old woman who died after being diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease is planning a lawsuit once the source of the outbreak is known, the family’s attorney said Monday.
Alice F. Johnson, a resident of Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs, died Oct. 26, days after her son learned she’d tested positive for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease, attorney Michael Conway said in a news release.
The state Department of Health earlier this month counted 15 total people diagnosed with the disease in Saratoga Springs and confirmed that two of them had died.
Nine of those infected were either residents or employees at the Wesley complex on Lawrence Street. The state Health Department also found six other cases among people with no clear connection to the Wesley nursing home-senior housing facility.
Both individuals who died were connected to Wesley, the state said.
Wesley officials said earlier this month that the Legionnaire’s bacteria had been found in five water sources at three different locations on the center campus and that those sources were being treated.
Wesley officials said then that the state Health Department-recommended testing looked at about three dozen samples in all, finding the bacteria in five of those.
No lawsuit in Johnson’s death has yet been filed. Conway, in the release, said he is seeking further information from the state and county health departments before proceeding.
Conway wrote in the news release that Johnson’s son, James Earl Johnson of Gansevoort, learned of the Legionella positive test days before her death, after she had several bouts with what was believed to have been pneumonia.
After learning of the positive test, he was told there was nothing more that could be done and she was released from Saratoga Hospital, the release reads.
“I want to know why I was not told about it sooner,” the son is quoted as saying in the release. “I trusted these people with my mother’s life and she did not deserve to die like this.”
Alice Johnson worked as a nurse’s aide for several years at Saratoga Hospital, according to her obituary. She was a member of Dyer-Phelps AME Zion Baptist Church in Saratoga Springs and enjoyed spending time with her family and loved ones.
Among her many family members, she is survived by five great grandchildren, her obituary reads.
The infections first came to light Oct. 21, when Wesley officials said three former patients and a staff member had been diagnosed with the pneumonia-like infection, and the state Health Department had recommended water-use restrictions.
The water restriction measures include use of water filters, bottled water and bagged ice.
The plan included installation of water filters in a variety of settings, including showers and faucets, the center said in a statement last month. The center also transitioned to bottled water and juices.
The health care center was asked to evaluate its water system, which is connected to the Saratoga Springs city water supply.
Positive tests came from three locations in the complex’s Hathorn building, one came from the Springs building and another came from an outdoor landscaped water feature, Wesley officials said in the prepared statement earlier this month.
How the bacteria came to be in scattered locations wasn’t known. Wesley officials noted that when routine testing was last done, on Sept. 2, the entire water system was clear of Legionella.
Wesley said it was working with a water treatment company and was considering installation of a monochloromine system, which would purify and cleanse the water before use.
While the disease can be spread by water mist, state health officials have noted that Legionnaire’s is not considered contagious and cannot be spread from person to person. Most people do not get sick, but it can be fatal for the elderly or those with underlying health issues. Most cases, however, respond well to antibiotics.
Health officials have said the two individuals who died had underlying health conditions.
Conway is with the firm Harris, Conway & Donovan in Albany.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.