Lack of Legionnaire’s Alert Upsets Guests; Woman Files Suit Against Another Hotel

Man says group wasn’t told of risk; suit filed against different hotel

ALBANY — Guests to one area hotel claim they weren’t warned about the presence of a potentially dangerous bacterial contamination on a visit this week, while a woman who fell ill last year after attending a conference at a different establishment is filing a lawsuit seeking damages.

Ken Cooper, a state canteen operator from Buffalo, checked in to Best Western Sovereign on Tuesday, one day after state tests confirmed the hotel’s water system was contaminated with legionnella bacteria.

Nobody at the front desk told him, Cooper said.

Cooper, who is legally blind, said he went to his room and noticed a white paper taped to the bathroom mirror. He couldn’t read it because of his vision impairment and almost ignored it, but Cooper said he decided to ask a hotel worker to read it to him.

The worker informed him about the bacteria risk at the hotel and told him the water temperature had been raised to help eliminate the bacteria, he said.

“We were pretty appalled that nobody was forthcoming with the information at the front desk,” Cooper said. “I felt I was done wrong.”

Cooper, who runs the canteen at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was attending a meeting at the hotel for State Committee of Blind Vendors, whose members operate the numerous convenience stores located in state buildings throughout New York. The group talked over the situation but decided to remain at the hotel for the two-day meeting, he said.

Mansoor Mustafa, general manager of Best Western Sovereign, 1228 Western Ave., said in a statement: “My understanding is that someone in the group who was not sight impaired informed members of the group about the issue at the property.”

He would not comment on whether the group was told before they checked in.

Six cases of Legionnaires’ disease between September and December have been linked to the Western Avenue hotel. All of the people have recovered and hotel is taking steps to eliminate the bacteria from its aging water system. The hotel will flush out its water system on Sunday, according to the Albany County Health Department.

Legionnaires’ is a severe form of pneumonia. The disease is transmitted on water droplets that can come from shower mist, steam from a hot tub and air conditioners. Legionnella, a naturally occurring bacteria that is present in many bodies of water, is harmless at lower levels.

County health officials said the hotel is under orders to inform hotel guests about the elevated bacteria at the hotel.

On Friday, an Albany lawyer announced that he is filing a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who nearly died after allegedly contracting Legionnaires’ disease at another area hotel.

Lori Clark, 48, of Nassau, an associate project manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, attended a three-day training session at the Comfort Inn in East Greenbush in early January 2011. Clark did not stay overnight, but ate several meals and used the hotel’s restrooms.

Clark’s lawyer, Michael Conway, of the Albany law firm Harris, Conway & Donovan, said the hotel never informed Clark that there were elevated levels of legionnella despite tests done a month earlier that showed abnormal results. Days after her visit to the hotel, Clark said she and several coworkers developed flu-like symptoms. Clark, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, became critically ill. She went into septic shock and organ failure. Clark eventually recovered and has returned to work, though she mostly works from home and only has 50 percent lung function.

“They were negligent in cleaning up their mess and they had a lack of concern for the public,” Clark said about the hotel.

Nicole Nykorchuk, general manager at the Comfort Inn, said the hotel has no comment.

Conway said the hotel shut down their hot tub for a couple days and cleaned it.

“They appeared to have done nothing to clean the air system,” he said. “And they said nothing to folks staying there or visiting for conferences.”

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