Hospitals at Risk for Waterborne Diseases

Evan Sweeney, August 2, 2010

Waterborne pathogens may not be first on your hospital’s list of priorities—perhaps because you haven’t seen an outbreak—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a risk in your facility, particularly if you have ornamental water structures.

Hospitals are by far the most at risk for legionella outbreaks of any building, says Tim Keane, consultant for Environmental Infection Control Consultants in Chalfont, PA, and author of the Guidelines for Control of Legionella in Ornamental Water Features. 

“There is no structure built in America—none—that has the risk factors of a hospital building for growing and culturing legionella,” Keane says. 

Furthermore, waterborne pathogens can be a significant financial burden on hospitals. Researchers at the CDC presented a study at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which determined waterborne illnesses—including legionella—cost the healthcare system as much as $539 million annually.

“These cost data highlight that water-related diseases pose not only a physical burden to the thousands of people sickened by them each year, but also a substantial burden in health care costs, including direct government payments through Medicare & Medicaid," says Michael Beach of the CDC.

Joint Commission requirements and legal backlash
Under EC.02.05.01, The Joint Commission requires healthcare facilities to manage risks associated with their utility systems, including “engineering controls of waterborne pathogens in potable water, cooling tower systems, and other aerosolized water systems.”

Evan Sweeney Evan Sweeney is an editorial assistant at HCPro. He manages and writes for Briefings on Infection Control, a monthly newsletter directed at IC compliance. He also blogs for OSHA Healthcare Advisor, a resource center for infection control and safety professionals, and regularly contributes to Medical Environment Update and OSHA Watch, which focus on healthcare employee safety and health.
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