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Testing of the Spectrum Health Pennock water will continue

Officials say “zero evidence” of legionella in hospital water supply

Don Converse (from left) and Steve Tanner, Spectrum Health Pennock plant operation team members, review features of the new water filtration system with Zach McIntosh, manager of facilities support services. Joan Van Houten

Staff Writer

Spectrum Health Pennock officials announced its water supply is safe and clear of all legionella bacterium that was discovered through testing in late December 2018.

The testing was prompted by reports to the Barry-Eaton District Health Department that two patients had contracted Legionnaires’ disease.

The Barry County hospital filed its first report that a patient was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease to the health department in September 2018. A second report of a patient with Legionnaires' was reported by the hospital in November 2018. That 92-year-old male patient died from chronic aspiration pneumonia shortly after the diagnosis, officials said.

Health department and hospital officials stated neither of the cases could be directly connected to the hospital. No other cases have been reported.

In a press release on March 7, hospital officials said continued water testing shows “zero evidence of the bacteria.”

The health department also issued a press release stating that the temporary filters and signage installed prior to the installation of a water treatment unit have been approved for removal because the treatment unit has effectively removed any presence of the legionella bacteria.

“We responded immediately and aggressively to remediate the problem and protect the health and safety of our patients and staff,” Angela Ditmar, president of Spectrum Health Pennock, said. “We communicated immediately with the community and our patients and kept everyone informed of the situation and the remediation process. I’m very proud of the team we have here. They all worked very hard through this process.”

The hospital's first steps of remediation began Dec. 28, with installation of water filters for all showers and faucets in patient rooms and water faucets throughout the facility.

Ditmar said the 60-day filters were a short-term fix while the fresh-water supply system was being treated and monitored. Had the legionella bacteria not been eradicated by the end of the 60 days, the filters would have been replaced.

The hospital then flushed out the water system and installed a monochloramine filtration system to the water main. Monochloramine, a disinfectant commonly used for drinking water, is being released into the hospital’s water supply through the filter.

According to Spectrum Health officials, water samples were being taken daily during the remediation process from several areas of the hospital to maintain an adequate concentration of the disinfectant to eradicate legionella.

Hospital administrators met with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials on Feb. 25 to obtain all required permits and approvals to continue operating the secondary treatment system on a permanent basis.

Ditmar said the hospital will maintain a close working relationship with the MDEQ.

“One new measure we’ve begun is running faucets that are not regularly used so the water in the lines aren’t stagnant,” Ditmar said. “We are exploring several other steps that could be incorporated into a management plan that far exceeds what is required.

“We don’t want to do what’s minimally acceptable. The safety and well-being of patients, visitors and staff is our top priority.”

The hospital continues to test patients for Legionnaires’ disease on a patient-request basis, as a precautionary measure.

“Because it’s been so long since legionella was present, symptoms now would be unrelated. It’s way past the gestation period,” Dr. J. Daniel Woodall, Barry-Eaton District Health medical director, said.

Community Health Promotion Specialist Sarah Surna said routine daily required bacteriological sampling within the city’s water system is being performed. Nothing of concern has been reported or is currently being reported in the Hastings municipal supply.

Hastings Water and Waste Water Treatment facilities Operations and Maintenance Specialist George Holzworth confirmed that the bacteria were contained within the hospital plumbing system. The city's water main going into the hospital is equipped with a back-flow preventer unit, which stops the water supply going into the building from flowing back out into the water main, he said.

Testing of the Spectrum Health Pennock water will continue bimonthly through March 2019. After that, testing will occur monthly for another three months, for a total of six months of monitoring. The health department will continue to monitor the results.

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