McLaren official: Lyon untruthful in Legionella release

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — A McLaren Flint hospital administrator accused the head of the state Health and Human Services department of being untruthful when his office put out a news release in February 2017 that accused the hospital of not addressing a Legionella bacteria outbreak.

Julie Borowski, a risk management specialist at McLaren Regional Medical Center, testified Friday in the involuntary manslaughter hearing for Health and Human Services chief Nick Lyon before 67th District Judge David Goggins.

Special Prosecutor Todd Flood requested Borowski to read aloud Lyon’s statement about her hospital not complying with action to address the Legionella risk, and she was asked whether that was true. Borowski said: “In my opinion, it’s false.”

Borowski testified that she and others at McLaren tried to get Health and Human Services officials to get involved as Legionella cases were beginning to be discovered throughout 2014, but no one responded to them. McLaren officials, she said, also reached out to Genesee County officials.

But in the February 2017 release, Lyon made the following statement: “While we have attempted to work with McLaren Flint to address the ongoing health risk of healthcare-associated Legionella at its facility, we are issuing this order today as a result of McLaren Flint’s insufficient response to our requests, as well as to request additional information regarding how they implemented the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations made in October and November 2016.”

Earlier this week, Borowski testified in the involuntary manslaughter case of state Medical Executive Eden Wells at her preliminary hearing. At that hearing, Borowski said Health and Human Services officials failed to save lives by ignoring requests to respond to McLaren officials beginning in 2014 when Legionella cases were popping up at the hospital.

With the increased cases, Borowski said McLaren took extra precautionary steps such as “hyperchlorinating” its water system more than twice a year as well as hiring an outside pathogen expert to examine its water system and offering expertise and solutions.

Borowski said these findings were sent to both the state and county. She also testified about an imminent threat order letter sent in January 2017 from Lyon and Wells that requested records in an effort to see if the Legionnaires’ cases were the result of the hospital’s water system. The system had already gone through increased testing after the outbreak, she has said.

On cross-examination by Lyon’s attorney, Larry Willey, Borowski was asked about meetings held between all the hospitals and other health professionals in the region and whether she knew someone from the state had attended, and whether Legionella was discussed. She did not attend those kind of meetings, Borowski said.

Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for allegedly trying to cover up the 2014-15 Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 Flint-area residents.

The manslaughter charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

Wells is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office regarding her role in the Flint water crisis and a Flint-area death from Legionnaires’ disease in 2015.

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