Legionella found at Cortland Regional Medical Center; drinking water restrictions in place

Cortland Regional Medical Center in July 2015 (Cortland Voice file photo)

Cortland Regional Medical Center in July 2015 (Cortland Voice file photo)

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Officials at Cortland Regional Medical Center have confirmed that Legionella bacteria was found in the hospital's drinking water system during a recent round of testing, the hospital announced Friday.

Since the discovery in November, officials have posted cautionary signage above drinking fountains and in public bathrooms at the hospital.

Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria in lakes, streams and groundwater but can also be found in water pipes, cooling towers and other water systems.

While most healthy people exposed to the bacteria do not develop illness, the bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia known as Legionnaire's disease, which can be treated with antibiotics. People with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New regulations by the New York State Department of Health that went into effect last summer require all hospitals and nursing homes to test cooling towers and drinking water systems for Legionella bacteria and to report those findings to the state.

"As a proactive measure and in response to these new state regulations, Cortland Regional recently tested its drinking water systems for the presence of Legionella," the hospital said in a statement Friday. "Because Legionella was found during our testing, the DOH requested temporary water restrictions be put into effect for at-risk patients until remediation is complete."

The water restrictions at the hospital were instituted on Dec. 19, and a permanent water treatment solution was installed on Dec. 30, officials said, adding that two copper-silver ionization units are "actively killing any bacteria" remaining in its water system.

The hospital tested its water systems for Legionella in 2015 after several patients at the hospital tested positive for the disease, though no bacteria was found. Officials concluded that the patients acquired the bacteria before coming into the hospital.

Hospital officials reiterated Friday that no Legionnaire's cases acquired in the community have been linked back to the hospital as the source of infection.

"We are exercising an abundance of caution and have been cooperating fully with all of the DOH’s recommendations and protocols to ensure that our patients, residents, and staff are informed and remain safe," the statement read. "If you hear or read anything to the contrary it is not accurate."