People are admitted into hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities in order to receive treatment for various illnesses and medical conditions. Such establishments are expected to have stringent requirements in terms of the facilities' sanitation and integrity with respect to keeping all kinds of harmful agents away from both patients and employees. After all, patients are much more vulnerable to exposure to all kinds of harmful organisms, and it is only logical to trust that a hospital would be a much safer place for them compared to public spaces and their own homes.
 

A health foe called Legionella


Health facilities must take extra care to protect their grounds from one specific bacterium, called Legionella, which is the cause of a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaire's disease. This disease cannot be passed on from person to person; rather, an individual gets Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the bacteria.

Legionella bacteria can survive and multiply in various water systems (hot tubs, mist sprayers, showers, etc.). Unfortunately, these water systems are common fixtures in many health care facilities. A patient (who may already be experiencing a compromised immune system) can inhale water droplets from these systems that contain the bacteria, and contract Legionnaires’ disease.

Taking regular precautions


Fortunately, there are water quality testing kits that the personnel in health care facilities can utilise to determine the quality of their water systems. They can use these kits to gather water samples and send them to a certified laboratory for analysis.


Going the extra mile   


And aside from testing a facility's existing water systems for the presence of bacteria, care must also be taken even during the planning and construction phase of these establishments.

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in the 12-story Heart Patient Tower of Miami Valley Hospital in 2011 which resulted in one patient's death and 10 other patients contracting the disease.  Legionella bacteria were traced to the tower's plumbing system.

The construction of the tower was performed by the architectural firm NBBJ L.L.C. In its contract with Miami Valley Hospital and its parent company Premiere Health Partners, NBBJ was responsible for overseeing construction, guarding the hospital from defects and deficiencies, and obtaining insurance to protect the hospital from commercial general liability claims.

NBBJ did obtain a general liability insurance policy from Chubb & Son, naming the hospital as insured. However, the policy contained a clause "excluding coverage for bodily injury caused by a biological agent or bacteria." This means that the damages for the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, caused by Legionella bacteria, would not be covered by the insurance policy.

Such details should be carefully examined by hospitals and medical centers to ensure that such outbreaks are prevented — and if not, that patients who are put at risk because of the disease receive the coverage they require to fight and recover from the potentially fatal disease.

+Duncan Hollis