Legionnaires’ Disease, corruption and distrust engulf Co-op City (Part1)


Co-op City Father attends to his 29-year-old son, Ronald Hines, who was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease in December 2014, spending 9 days in the Intensive Care Unit. He faces a long rehabilitation period to regain normal functioning.

By Carmen Glover

Feelings of rage emanated from frustrated Co-op City shareholders on Tuesday, January 13, during a town hall meeting which was convened in the community by New York City Health Department officials and Riverbay Corporation representatives. The meeting was held to address the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease, since December 2014, in the cooling towers of the sprawling complex which contains 35 residential buildings that house over 50,000 residents.

‘We did find preliminary positives in the cooling towers. We are continuing to investigate and continue to test other sites,” Health Department expert Dr. Sharon Balter said at the town hall meeting. While stating that the disease is “easy to treat,” she explained that the bacteria “lives in water and people generally get it from breathing in mists of water that have it.” Balter was quick to point out that the legionella bacteria has been concentrated in the cooling towers, which are not connected to the water supply for drinking, cooking and bathing .

Co-op City has experienced an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease.

Co-op City has experienced an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease.

Legionnaires’ is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella and the most severe form of the infection leads to pneumonia. The bacteria are found in water, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, large plumbing systems, cooling towers and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems. The disease was named after an outbreak in Philadelphia in 1976 among people attending a state convention of the American Legion. Symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, headaches, tiredness, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea. The elderly and people who smoke as well as those who have compromised immune and lung disease are most at risk of contracting the disease.

“The cooling towers are being cleaned and disinfected,” said Jeffrey Buss, Co-Op City’s General Counsel. “Public health and safety are our primary concern. We are doing everything possible to eliminate any risk that may exist.”

During the meeting, health officials delivered a Power Point presentation and promised to provide an updated report to the community within a week. According to the health officials, 12 cases of the disease have been identified in the Bronx, eight of which have been identified in Co-op City. The eight cases in Co-op City have been diagnosed in shareholders residing at 600 Baychester Avenue, 120 Benchley Place, 120 Casals Place, 100 Darrow Place, 140 Dekruif Place, 100 Elgar Place and 100 Erskine Place. In March 2014, two persons in Building 27 contracted the disease but it was kept quiet by Riverbay Corporation, which manages Co-op City.

Aerial shot of Co-op City

Aerial view of Co-op City, where an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease has been identified in the complex’s cooling towers.

But residents of the complex were skeptical as they listened to the officials downplay the dangers of the bacteria leading to a widespread outbreak, especially because the people who have contracted the disease do not reside near to the cooling towers.

“I do not believe a word of what you all are saying. You are all liars,” said outspoken community activist Frank Belcher, striding to the front of the room to offer his succinct and spicy assessment after the presentation by the city officials. “Who are you to tell me that my drinking water is safe?”

Belcher was not alone in expressing disdain. Indeed, many shareholders expressed a profound sense of betrayal, anger, fear and concern born out of disappointment that when the two original cases of the disease were discovered in the complex in 2012, they were kept secret by Marion Scott Real Estate Inc. (MSI). Eventually, Riverbay Vice President Daryl Johnson disclosed to the public that the two cases of Legionnaires’ existed, and a local newspaper carried the story.

MSI was unceremoniously booted from its lucrative role of managing Co-op City after a series of financial management, corruption and cronyism that has plunged the corporation into debt, attracted lawsuits and pending investigations, while the buildings stumbled into general disrepair. Meanwhile, shareholders find it difficult o accept any reassurances from the complex’s representatives as being entirely truthful.

Co-op City is home to more than 50,000 residents.

Co-op City is home to more than 50,000 residents.

Anguish tinged the voice of a concerned father, Mr. Hines, who described his once-healthy 29-year-old son, Ronald Hines, who was hospitalized for nine days in the Intensive Care Unit in  December 2014 after contracting the disease.

“My son has been through a lot, He lost mobility. He lost his speech. It’s horrible,” Mr. Hines said, while revealing that his once healthy son, who smokes, is still not able to function and perform routine activities of daily living. Discussing the outbreak on a recent newscast, ABC Medical Director Dr. Richard Besser was detailed.

“The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ can live in the slime that can build up inside the cooling tower so if it’s not cleaned properly it can spray and spread.” That could explain why residents in different buildings are affected.

The distrust between the shareholders and the representatives from the Health Department and Riverbay Corporation is rooted in the corporation’s extensive history of corruption, which has systematically traveled with each new reincarnation of the Board of Directors. The complex is awash in lawsuits and investigations brought by various entities including the booted MSI and former employees.

In the meantime, Cleve Taylor, president of the Riverbay Board of Directors, has suggested that shareholders should brace for “carrying charge increases” to offset the cost of cleaning the cooling towers and satisfying the cost of settling an $8 million lawsuit filed by Riverbay employees who alleged that they were routinely robbed of overtime pay and given time off instead.

One constant in Co-op city is that without a doubt, there is always mismanagement, followed by elaborate explanations to justify hefty carrying charge increases that shareholders insist they can ill afford.–OnPointPress.net.