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Tests results confirm Legionella bacteria found at St. Joseph's Hospital

St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center

Final tests have now concluded that the Legionella bacteria was present in two patient sinks and one ice machine at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse at the time three patients were being treated for Legionnaires’ disease. One person died, although hospital officials say the form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ was not the sole cause of death. 

Now in the wake of the outbreak, hospital officials are trying to reassure patients that the hospital is safe.

The story about Legionnaires’ appears to be keeping some people away from the hospital. In the weeks since the cases became public, emergency department patient visits have dropped about 10 percent, and admissions are down slightly. Also, some surgeries have been postponed.

St. Joseph’s President Kathy Ruscitto doesn’t want people to compare this outbreak to cluster of deadly Legionnaire’s disease downstate earlier this year, which was spread through air towers, which Ruscitto says is much more invasive.

“Coming off that Brooklyn story, people heard that and assumed that’s what we were dealing with. And we are trying at every possibility to make sure people understand this is nothing like that, it is much more contained to a smaller group of patients,” said Ruscitto.

Ruscitto says there have been no new cases of hospital-acquired Legionella diagnosed in more than three weeks, and emphasizes that those susceptible to this form of Legionella pneumonia are typically over the age of 50, have weak immune systems or chronic lung disease.

“When you are exposed to the water you have to aspirate it into your lungs to get it,” said Ruscitto.

Ruscitto says the steps the hospital has taken in recent weeks has made the hospital’s water system as safe as it’s ever been.

"We decided to take the most aggressive approach and have put filters on all our faucets. We have taken out our ice machines and cleaned them and added filters in them, restricted water flow in part of our system till we add a second copper-silver ionization system.”

And St. Joe’s is continuing a water restriction outside of the emergency services building, is providing bottled water to patients visitors and staff.

Going forward, the hospital is considering making even more changes to the water system to help keep the bacteria at bay.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.