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May 08, 2020   •   3 minute read

Legionella Testing: Too Important to Overlook

Water cooling towerAs with much of life, preventive care is more cost-effective than fighting a problem once it arises. Legionella mitigation is no different.

Legionnaire’s disease can be deadly, but it is 100 percent preventable when you do your due diligence. There are huge differences in cost and impact on human lives when you regularly test your water systems for Legionella versus when you have a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak thanks to its unchecked spread.

Here’s why Legionella testing is far too important to overlook.

 

It’s extremely costly to fight Legionella once it has spread.

When you test for Legionella, you can catch the bacteria before it proliferates. A single test costs anywhere from $100 to $200. Adding to that sample collections and other related costs, you’re looking at anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 per year to test and clean your water systems if you find the bacteria present.

Compare that to the cost of mitigation—expensive once Legionella is present and spreading throughout your water system, even if no one has fallen ill.

Once an outbreak has occurred, mitigation costs vary wildly, but are always much pricier than testing for Legionella and catching its presence right away. One psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for example, spent more than $1 million on remediation—including chlorine flushes and supplies needed to provide safe water while its system was offline.

 

If you operate in an area with Legionella compliance laws, you may be looking at fines if you’re the source of an outbreak.

Take New York City and New York State as examples. Fines for non-compliance start at $2,000 and go all the way up to $25,000. You could even face jail time.

If you’re a healthcare facility that accepts Medicare or Medicaid payments, and you don’t comply with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rules for preventing Legionella, you could lose the right to accept these programs, and thus, patients. That could mean the end of your practice.

 

Even if your state doesn’t require Legionella testing, you could face costly litigation.

While New York City and New York State require Legionella testing and strict adherence to laws, and the CMS requires healthcare facilities maintain a water safety plan, most industries and municipalities don’t have any Legionella compliance regulations on the books.

That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook if a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak happens, though. On the contrary: As with many areas where the law has yet to catch up with society, victims are using civil litigation to force the proper management of facilities.

The aforementioned psychiatric hospital that spent $1 million on remediation is facing an enormous lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union for providing compromised care in “unsanitary conditions” and causing “irreparable harmful physical, emotional, and mental health consequences,” according to published reports.

Similarly, the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, which was the source of a Legionnaires’ outbreak in summer 2019 that led to at least one death, is the subject of several lawsuits alleging negligence.

Lest you think that these are two extraordinary cases, there are numerous law firms specializing in Legionnaires’ litigation, which is increasing as a means to pressure industries across the United States to implement water management plans and protect the people in their buildings.

 

Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks can do untold damage to your reputation.

Even if you avoid litigation and you’re able to minimize the cost of mitigation, your reputation will take a hit. Where Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks happen, news outlets follow.

Take the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. Its outbreak was covered not just by local publications, but outlets like CNN and the New York Times. Now, when people search for that hotel online, they’re given stories explaining how it was the source of a completely preventable outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

 

Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks are growing.

U.S. infrastructure is aging, and it’s not being replaced quickly enough to prevent the spread of Legionella bacteria. Such water systems are prime real estate for the water-borne pathogen, and “more vulnerable to contamination through leaks and breaks,” according to Municipal Sewer and Water Magazine.

Other factors that have contributed to the increase in Legionnaires’ cases in the last 20 years include an aging and vulnerable population, increased awareness, and improved testing. That’s why there was a record number of Legionnaires’ disease cases in 2018, and a similarly high amount in 2019. Experts anticipate this trend to continue in the coming years, as infrastructure continues to age, without replacement.

The financial and human costs are far too great to ignore the importance of comprehensive Legionella testing.

 

 

One of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to maintain a water management plan and fight the spread of Legionella is to enlist Vitralogy’s SmartCompliance tool. Interested in learning more? Contact us today.

 

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