St. John’s on Fountain Lake water samples test positive for Legionella

Published 4:15 pm Friday, July 27, 2018

Water samples taken from the St. John’s on Fountain Lake water system have reportedly tested positive for Legionella.

The preliminary test results were released Thursday afternoon, said St. John’s CEO Scot Spates. The result comes as a full assessment of the nursing home’s water supply continues after three cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in the last two months.

A full assessment conducted by water consulting firm Innovational Concepts Inc. — expected to include recommendations on how to end the outbreak and prevent any future cases — is expected early next week. Spates said he is not sure if the cause of the outbreak will ever be found.

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The first resident’s symptoms reportedly began in early June, and the second resident’s symptoms were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health on July 19. The third case was reported July 21.

Spates said none of the residents who contracted the disease were hospitalized as of Friday morning.

The positive sample was reportedly evaluated by Minnesota Valley Testing, the company hired by St. John’s to test its water supply. The strains of Legionella are expected to be identified by late next week as further testing ensues.

Shower filters to prevent the spread of the disease are expected to arrive at the facility Monday. Bottled water has been given to residents, who have been advised not to drink the water until the process has finished. Residents last week were advised to take only sponge baths, not use ice machines and not use water sprayers until the process is completed.

“It buys us some time until we can treat the whole system,” Spates said.

He said the Department of Health informed him that Legionella has a 10-day incubation process, and as of Friday, there had not been a confirmed case at St. John’s on Fountain Lake in six days.

“That’s real good news,” Spates said. “If we can get through the next four days, that’s really a good sign — doesn’t mean we’re clear, but it’s a good sign that what we’re doing to make sure the tenants and residents don’t get it is working.”

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of bacterial pneumonia that can be severe, making prompt diagnosis and antibiotic treatment important, the Health Department said. Symptoms reportedly include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and coughing. The disease is reportedly spread by inhaling aerosols from water sources containing Legionella bacteria, and it is not spread from person to person.

As part of the investigation, Department of Health epidemiologists have worked at St. John’s on Fountain Lake to identify the cause of the disease.

The approximately 100 residents of the facility were notified of the situation last week.

According to the Department of Health, most people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease, but people over the age of 50, smokers or those with certain medical conditions — including weakened immune systems, diabetes, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions — are at an increased risk. Anyone with any concerns is advised to seek medical attention and inform their health provider.

St. John’s on Fountain Lake, which includes assisted living, independent living and nursing home facilities, had its grand opening in October.

Spates said St. John’s is committed to the safety of its residents, noting it has worked with the Department of Health and the city of Albert Lea during the process. The groups have participated in two conference calls this week.

“It’s something we need to fix, and we need to fix it as soon as possible,” he said. “And I think as an organization, we’ve been very quick to respond to this, and the sooner we get it resolved, the better.”

Department of Health information officer Doug Schultz said the department is working with Freeborn County Public Health Department and St. John’s to investigate the case. He said they are working with the St. John’s to implement a water management plan that includes a process for testing the water system at different points.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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