FLINT, Mich. — Michigan’s former head of disease control said Wednesday that an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area was a sensitive topic at the same time that Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration was being challenged over water quality in the poor city.
Corinne Miller returned to the witness stand at a key court hearing involving her former boss, Nick Lyon, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. He’s charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of an 85-year-old man who was treated for Legionnaires’ six months before he succumbed to congestive heart failure in 2015.
A judge must decide whether Lyon will go to trial on that charge as well as a charge of misconduct in office.
Prosecutors claim a timely alert about Legionnaires’ in Genesee County might have helped Robert Skidmore and others. Legionnaires’ is a pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs. Cooling systems and misting fountains can be sources.
Miller said she informed Lyon about the outbreak in January 2015 and left it to him and other officials to tell the public. It took 12 more months for an announcement by the governor.
“There was always sensitivity around communicating with the public in Flint,” said Miller, who pleaded no contest to willful neglect of duty for failing to act on her own.
“It might have been better” to share information “even if we didn’t have all the answers,” she testified.
Flint, under the leadership of Snyder-appointed managers, used the Flint River for water for 18 months until the governor finally acknowledged that the water was leaching dangerous levels of lead from old plumbing and fixtures. Some experts believe the water also caused the Legionnaires’ outbreak.
Nearly 100 cases, including 12 deaths, were detected in the Flint area in 2014 and 2015.