Since the beginning of the largest Legionnaires outbreak in New York City’s history occurred in the South Bronx, we have been adamant that our drinking water supply systems must be tested as per recommendations by various agencies and scientific journals.
New York City Department of Health Commissioner Dr Mary T Bassett responded to us at the first town hall meeting in The Bronx this past summer by saying there was no need to test because they didn’t see a pattern.
Dr Bassett AGREED with the data that we presented which states that the majority of cases arise from public drinking water supply systems.
Watch the video where we questioned DOH Commissioner Bassett at 1:42:30 mark in the video:
Two weeks after the outbreak was announced over, Melrose Houses, a NYCHA public housing development, turned up with their water drinking supply systems contaminated by legionnaires—in a development where several individuals had fallen ill during the outbreak.
Now a physician who worked at Lincoln Hospital for over a decade has been fired because he took it upon himself to do what the city was neglecting to do and that was to test the water supply systems of the homes of patients who became ill or victims who passed away from legionnaires—and he FOUND the deadly yet curable bacteria in their faucets.
As an infectious disease physician, Dr Michael Skelly was at the core of the team treating the patients infected with Legionnaires and knew that the city was wrong for focusing in cooling towers.
“It is an outrageous gesture of contempt for this community that HHC [New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation] would persecute and fire Dr. Skelly simply because he acted to protect Bronx residents in the middle of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease,” said Gregory Filosa, Skelly’s lawyer. “We cannot wait to try this case before a jury of residents of the Bronx.”
Filosa plans to file the lawsuit on Friday.
Skelly, who worked in the infectious disease department at Lincoln Hospital for 13 years, was part of a small team that helped oversee the treatment of legionella patients during the outbreak. He decided to independently culture faucets and shower heads in patients’ homes, because he believed the health department decision not to test their drinking water was wrong.
Skelly says his direct supervisor was aware of his testing and agreed with what he was doing.
“We knew there was a problem,” Skelly said of the health department’s policy of only testing cooling towers and not testing the patients’ home water supply. “Especially when they were identifying the Lincoln Hospital cooling tower as a source as well. We knew that wasn’t a source.”
Skelly suspected the patients’ drinking water.
After consulting with Dr. Victor Yu, a leading legionella expert who runs the Special Pathogens Laboratory in Pittsburgh, Skelly began going to patients’ homes and requesting to take water samples to test for legionella. The tests showed that out of 37 patients’ homes Skelly tested, legionella was present in six, Filosa said.
The results are significant, says Dr. Yu. “There is evidence that he was right.”
A health department official called Skelly’s supervisor a few days after he began the testing, according to a claim Skelly filed against HHC last month. “‘They know what you’re doing and they expect it to stop immediately,’” Skelly remembered his supervisor saying.”
Dr Yu’s recommendations were exactly what we presented at the town hall meeting and were told it wasn’t necessary YET we continued to ask how can they declare our drinking water supply systems to be safe without actually testing them?
In an interview with the New York Daily News, Dr Skelly says, “I called patients and asked if I could come,” he said. “I told them who I was and of my concern that the water inside the apartment might be part of the problem.” He said most people welcomed him in.
This is a huge failure on NYC’s Department of Health and its commissioner as well as our Mayor Bill de Blasio for allowing this to happen given all the evidence stating that cooling towers are not the sole culprits nor the source in the vast majority of cases historically.
For our complete coverage of this deadly Legionnaires outbreak, head over to our archives.