State orders McLaren-Flint hospital to step up efforts to prevent Legionnaires'

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FLINT (WJRT) (6/12/2019) - The state is forcing McLaren-Flint hospital to increase its efforts to prevent Legionnaire's disease.

State and federal public health officials believe the hospital may be to blame for five recent cases of Legionnaires' disease.

McLaren has denied that conclusion and believes other factors caused the illnesses. Regulators say the hospital has refused to implement recommendations from the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an order Wednesday forcing McLaren-Flint to immediately comply with water restrictions, patient notification, data requests, public health investigations and official recommendations.

“The department has attempted to work with McLaren-Flint to assure that all appropriate steps are being taken in a timely manner to protect the health, safety and welfare of patients, staff and visitors within the health facility,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon. “Prompt compliance with this order will minimize health risks for McLaren’s patients.”

The state is requiring McLaren to take the the following preventative steps:
-- Restricting showers and doing sponge baths instead.
-- Avoiding exposure to jetted bathtubs.
-- Installing biological filters on any shower heads and faucets.
-- Providing a different supply of drinking water.
-- Notify all current patients and patients discharged after April 21 of legionella concerns.
-- Forward all water test results to the state within seven days of samples being taken.
-- Cooperate with state and federal investigators, and provide them with any information they request.

Legionnaires' disease is a form of pneumonia that spreads through droplets of water. Legionella bacteria naturally occurs in water, but can become too concentrated in warm and confined environments.

McLaren believes patients contracted some of the Legionnaires' cases outside the hospital and sought treatment there, leading health officials to point a finger at the hospital as the source.

“Our hospital treats sick people, including people that come to our facility with Legionnaires’ disease contracted from community sources," McLaren-Flint said in a statement. "Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, including a 100% increase in Legionnaire’s disease cases in Genesee County last year, the state continually attributes those cases to our facility."

The hospital says it has shared 863 water samples and more than 3,000 other measurements in its water with state regulators and the Genesee County Health Department. State and local public health officials were in the hospital on Tuesday to take water samples.

"Yet today, on the eve of another significant court event regarding criminal charges against former MDHHS employees, the department issues this very public effort against our facility," McLaren's statement says.

State officials say the hospitals actions so far have not adequately addressed concerns and recommendations.

“Steps taken by the hospital have been insufficient to resolve Legionella issues that impair its ability to deliver an acceptable level of care for the health and safety of the public,” said Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Orlene Hawks. “Our order requires the hospital to take additional measures to protect Michiganders and ensure compliance with the Public Health Code.”

McLaren says it may file legal action against the state.

McLaren-Flint was under investigation for legionella contamination during the Flint water crisis from 2014 to 2016. Public health officials believe three patients may have contracted Legionnaires' at the hospital in 2018.

Two more suspected cases linked to McLaren-Flint patients have been reported in 2019. One of those patients spent 10 days in the hospital during the incubation period for Legionnaires'.

State officials say McLaren agreed to let the CDC help investigate the situation, but the hospital is putting limits that CDC officials believe would affect the outcome.