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Flint mayor is concerned dispute over court order may be getting in the way of public health

Sep 8, 2016

Flint’s mayor is concerned the health of her city’s residents may be affected by a legal dispute between state agencies and local health institutions. 

A dispute over a court order has led to sniping between the governor’s office, Michigan’s Attorney General’s office, the state health department, and Flint’s McLaren hospital.

This week, the state health department announced a seventh case of Legionnaire's disease in Genesee County this year. But it said it couldn’t confirm what the Flint hospital was doing in response.  

At this time, the MDHHS does not have additional information about the case, including whether or not it is healthcare-associated, as MDHHS is prohibited from fully investigating Legionella cases in Genesee County by a Protective Order. 

MDHHS has no knowledge of any efforts by McLaren Hospital to appropriately assess, remediate and clear locations of patients with Legionnaires’ disease

A McLaren spokeswoman wrote in an email none of the cases is definitively linked to McLaren Flint.

Two of the seven patients who have been identified as having Legionnaires in 2016 received care at McLaren Flint. Both patients came to our facility with symptoms of active illness. One patient visited our hospital after receiving care at another local healthcare facility; neither case was definitively linked to McLaren Flint. In compliance with the regulations guiding all hospitals in Michigan, we reported both cases to the County Health Department.  The other five cases have no connection to McLaren Flint. 

McLaren spokesman Rosemary Plorin says the hospital’s water management program is being reviewed by the Genesee County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control. She added:

This review was done without any of the outside political forces now controlling decision-making at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Amid the flurry of press releases, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is concerned the dispute is preventing the public from being informed about the potential health threat in their community.

“I didn’t find out about it until I saw it in the paper today,” Weaver said. “I thought, 'Wow, it seems like the state or the county, somebody would have let us know so I could be informed and we could let the citizens know.”

Twelve people died and nearly 100 were sickened by Legionnaire's disease in Genesee County from 2014 to 2015.  A suspected link to Flint’s water crisis has not yet been confirmed.

A state investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by state and local officials during the water crisis prompted a request for the court order. 

The Snyder administration claims the court order is preventing state health officials from doing their job.  

But the Attorney General’s office counters that MDHHS is the subject of a criminal investigation and should not be performing any investigation of the legionella or lead poisoning in Flint. Adding the court order preserves evidence in the ongoing criminal investigation.

To date, eight current and former state employees, including some from MDHHS, have been charged criminally in the Flint water probe. Investigators have indicated more charges more charges are possible.