Michigan orders Flint hospital to address Legionella risks

Flint Water Tank

The State of Michigan has ordered a Flint hospital to fix its water system that is suspected of causing a Legionaires’ disease outbreak.

The State of Michigan ordered a Flint hospital Tuesday to immediately comply with federal recommendations that were issued due to its association with a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, saying the hospital’s water system is unsanitary and a possible source of illness.

The order, which was issued by the state Department of Health and Human Services, said McLaren Flint has insufficiently shown compliance with recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the fall.

The hospital fired back, accusing the state of providing “absolutely no support” during the 2014-15 outbreak and retroactively casting blame after criminal charges were filed against 13 current or former state and city workers.

Some outside experts suspect the spike in cases was linked to Flint’s improperly treated, lead-contaminated tap water, but the state said a review “has raised several new questions that require answers.”

The state cited a report from December 2014 in which a company that tested McLaren’s water said it seemed that the municipal water was not contributing to the hospital’s Legionella bacteria issues and the problems instead were “likely internal to the hospital system.” The state said it will appoint a monitor, conduct independent water testing and force the hospital to cooperate with requests for information.

McLaren said it already has provided much, if not all, of the information outlined in the order but plans to be fully responsive.

“Despite the fact that dozens of Legionnaires’ disease cases have been reported in patients that have had absolutely no contact with our facilities, and despite the growing consensus among public health and infectious disease specialists that the city’s use of the Flint River as a water source is the prime contributor to our community’s Legionnaires’ disease epidemic, the state refuses to broaden its perspective and hold itself and others accountable for the inaction of prior years,” the hospital said in a statement.

The state, which has come under scrutiny for mishandling the outbreak and waiting to notify the public, is following up on Legionnaires’ cases after winning a legal dispute over access to records. It wants to know more about what the hospital is doing to strengthen its water system.

The order came the same day the mayor of Flint met with Gov. Rick Snyder to discuss Michigan’s decision to withdraw some financial assistance that was originally offered to help the beleaguered city and its residents cope with the man-made crisis.

In a “constructive discussion,” he said, he reaffirmed a state announcement from three weeks ago to stop paying a portion of customers’ bills and also halt covering Flint’s costs to use water from a Detroit-area system. The move will save the state more than $2 million per month.

The Republican governor said the payments will end because the level of lead in the city’s water no longer exceeds the federal limit. Residents are still encouraged to use faucet filters provided by the state.

Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia caused by bacteria in the lungs. People get sick if they inhale mist or vapor from contaminated water systems, hot tubs or cooling systems — typically in large buildings such as hospitals and hotels.