Oct 08, 2019

Washington, D.C., Hospital Discovers Legionella in Water System

St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., has been without running water for a week after bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease was discovered in the water system.

Hospital ward

On Sept. 26, health officials received results from routine water testing at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., that showed legionella bacteria and pseudomonas bacteria. Since the discovery, the hospital has been without running water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), legionella bacteria can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease, and “it can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made building water systems.” The bacteria occurs naturally in freshwater environments like lakes and streams. 

“Disinfecting wipes and industrial level cleaning supplies are [being] used for cleaning equipment and other surfaces,” said Phyllis Jones, chief of staff for the Department of Behavioral Health, to the Washington City Paper

The infectious disease staff are also monitoring patients closely to address potential infection risks. Jones says no staff or patients have shown signs of illness. 

The hospital continues to admit patients. An anonymous staff member Washington City Paper spoke with is worried the admittance of new patients will lead to outbreaks. The staff member said that when patients are admitted, they normally have to take a shower and are treated for bedbugs and lice. In light of the hospital’s current “water emergency protocol,” new patients are coming straight in, without this treatment. 

Though Jones said portable showers, bottled water and hand wipes are readily available, staff and patients are still concerned. 

“It’s a terrible problem,” said Andrea Procaccino, a staff attorney at Disability Rights DC. “The staff and patients are very upset...If you’re not able to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom or there’s no running water, it makes it hard to have proper hygiene and sanitation.” 

This is not the first time the hospital has been without water, however. In 2016, a severe water main rupture in August left the hospital and its patients without water for nearly a week. The hospital failed to effectively communicate the situation both internally and externally when this incident occurred, said an anonymous Superior Court official to the Washington City Paper

Jones told the City Paper that St. Elizabeths is currently “working with DC Water and DC Health to evaluate options and solutions,” which leaves staff and patients anticipating further updates. 

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