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Cancer Patient Died After Getting Legionnaires' at Midtown Facility: Suit

By Maya Rajamani | April 10, 2017 5:58pm
 Hope Lodge on West 32nd Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
Hope Lodge on West 32nd Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
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Wikimedia Commons/Jim.henderson

MIDTOWN SOUTH — An American Cancer Society facility refused to install a water-disinfection system for months after four of its patients contracted Legionnaires’ disease — one of whom died not long after, a new lawsuit charges.

Gerard Artale, of Lake Luzerne, New York, and his wife Joan Pedersen were staying in a room at Hope Lodge in Midtown South between Jan. 18 and Feb. 2, 2015, while Pedersen received cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, according to a suit filed by Artale in Manhattan Supreme Court last week.

The facility, on West 32nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, offers free short-term housing for cancer patients receiving treatment in the city, the American Cancer Society’s website says.

After Pedersen started experiencing symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease at the end of January, her doctors stopped her radiation and chemotherapy treatment and admitted her to an intensive care unit to start treating the infection, the lawsuit claims.

She was diagnosed with the disease on Feb. 19 and died on May 20, the suit notes.

“[Pedersen] survived her acute illness, but in the interim, without treatment, her cancer worsened and she was too weak to resume treatment,” the suit claims.

Water samples taken from her room in April 2015 later tested positive for Legionella bacteria, according to the suit.

“Instead of life-extending cancer treatment, [Pedersen] endured weeks of invasive and painful treatment for Legionnaires’ disease, including over a week in intensive care and extreme mental anguish knowing that the suspension of her treatment would likely be a death sentence,” the lawsuit says.

Pedersen wasn't the only Hope Lodge resident who contracted the illness while staying at the facility, the suit adds.

A second Hope Lodge resident receiving treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering started experiencing symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease in Oct. 2014, before Pedersen contracted the illness.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggested the facility install a “long-term disinfection system” throughout the building after learning about the two cases, but it “refused” to install one, the suit alleges.

In August 2015, the Health Department informed Hope Lodge that a third resident had contracted the disease and once again recommended installing a disinfection system, but the facility again refused, according to the suit.

The illness sickened a fourth resident two weeks later, but the facility only installed a “chlorine dioxide infection system” in April 2016, the suit says.

“At no point did Hope Lodge ever warn any of its residents, including [Artale] and his late wife, of the risks posed by its water or the fact that the building did not have a chlorine dioxide disinfection system,” the suit claims.

Pedersen footed “substantial” medical bills and “endured unspeakable pain, discomfort, mental anguish and suffering” before her death, the charge continues.

“Prior to the outbreak… [the] defendants were well aware that they were housing a population which was particularly vulnerable to the infection,” the suit says.

The defendants “did not implement a water management plan sufficient to protect the vulnerable population it housed at Hope Lodge,” it adds.

At least 16 people died and 133 were sickened during a 2015 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the city.

The New York Post first reported on Artale's suit, which is seeking unspecified damages and attorneys' fees.

A Health Department spokesman on Monday confirmed the four cases mentioned in the suit, but couldn’t confirm that one of the patients had died.

“We worked closely with the American Cancer Society on the investigation, and they installed a long-term disinfection system to remediate,” he wrote in an email. “We were not able to definitely identify a source for the illness of any of these patients.”

The American Cancer Society on Monday declined to comment on the suit, citing ongoing litigation.