Federal health officials warned on June 6 that nursing homes and hospitals need to do more to protect patients from harmful Legionella bacteria that thrive in facilities’ contaminated water systems.
Americans rely heavily on the 24-hour access to care they can receive at hospitals and through the ER. In fact, ER visits have increased almost 22% over the past decade. But if Legionella bacteria is coursing through a hospital’s water system, are patients really safe?
An in-depth analysis of more than 2,800 cases of Legionnaires’ from 2015 revealed that 553 individual cases were the direct result of staying at a health care facility such as a nursing home or a hospital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a total of 66 patients died at the hands of the illness.
Considering that almost 70% of Americans turning 65 will need long-term care in the future, the possibility of contracting Legionnaires’ is a major concern for a large aging population. The bacteria that causes this disease typically thrives in water storage tanks, cooling towers, and old pipes. And those staying at hospitals and nursing homes are at an especially high risk with weakened immune systems.
Fortunately, there’s hope for every health care facility dealing with contaminated water systems. According to Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s acting director, the illness, while life-threatening, can be prevented.
“We know if those facilities have an effective water-management system they can prevent these infections,” Schuchat said during a press briefing. “Nobody wants their loved one to go into a hospital or a long-term care facility and end up with Legionnaires’ disease.”
Despite the CDC’s efforts, many of these facilities are still lacking effective water management plans. But the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced earlier this month that health care facilities are now required to develop and execute new policies and procedures to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ from harming future patients.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, believes firmly in these new guidelines.
“This is all about improper maintenance, improper sanitation and improper sterilization, and a vastly underreported problem,” Siegel recently told The Post Star.
According to Schuchat, these new guidelines will be a large part of future CMS inspections.