Michigan Orders Flint Hospital To Reduce Legionnaires' Risks

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FLINT (WWJ/AP) - Michigan officials are ordering a Flint hospital to take steps to reduce the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires' disease at the facility.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory on Wednesday ordered McLaren Flint Hospital to "immediately correct conditions."

Hospital spokeswoman Rosemary Plorin says in an email they believe the order "is unfounded and represents the state's continuous efforts to shift blame for their bad decisions made five years ago onto our hospital."

The order requires McLaren Flint Hospital to immediately comply with water restrictions, patient notification, data requests, public health investigations and official recommendations from the department. 

"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," LARA Director Orlene Hawks said in a statement. "Our order requires the hospital to take additional measures to protect Michiganders and ensure compliance with the Public Health Code."

Flint, while under state financial management, switched to the Flint River for water in 2014 without treating it to reduce corrosion. Lead leached from pipes, contaminating the system. At the same time, a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak occurred that led to criminal charges against government officials.

Legionnaires' is a severe form of pneumonia caused by water-borne bacteria.

McLaren Flint was the subject of Legionella disease outbreak investigations in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Due to those investigations, the health department issued an order in Feb. 2017. Then in 2018, three additional patients experienced symptoms believed to be Legionnaires’ disease with a possible association with their stays at the hospital. In 2019, two additional cases of Legionnaires’ disease with association to McLaren Flint have been reported. One of these cases is a definite healthcare-associated case as the individual spent 10 days at the facility during their disease incubation period. 

In response to the most recent cases, state health officials requested investigation assistance from the Centers of Disease Control. 

Legionella bacteria are naturally occurring in fresh water sources. The organism can multiply in manmade water systems such as cooling towers, decorative fountains, hot tubs and large building plumbing systems. After Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, water containing Legionella can spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in. People can get the disease when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria.