A patient at Western State Hospital has tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease.
The patient had recently been moved from Western State to a medical facility in Lakewood with symptoms of pneumonia and tested positive for the disease, said Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Hospitals where two other Western State patients are being treated for pneumonia have been notified of the positive Legionnaires’ test result, Spears said.
Some hospital staff members are concerned about their health because of conditions at the 800-bed hospital and have complained about the hospital’s failure to clean ventilation systems.
Legionnaires’ is a respiratory disease caused by the Legionella bacteria. Its symptoms often are more severe than pneumonia, and it’s especially dangerous for people who are older, or have a chronic lung disease or a weak immune system.
It’s spread through water systems or by breathing small droplets of infected water. It is not spread through person-to-person contact, said Dr. James Polo, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
The hospital has asked the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to test the hospital’s water system.
The system was flushed with chlorine in September as a precaution after patients at the University of Washington Medical Center contracted the disease through contaminated ice machines, Spears said.
The state Department of Health is following the case and is supporting the local health department, which is leading the investigation, said David Johnson, a spokesman for the department.
Paul Vilja, a nursing supervisor at Western State, said he has received reports from several staff members who said they’ve become sick.
He received a text from one worker who reported being weak and tired and heading to urgent care Wednesday. Another staff member complained of coughing and an inability to sleep.
In the past, workers’ main concern was the hospital’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, which “have never been cleaned due to the expense involved,” Vilja said.
He has helped other workers file complaints with the state Department of Labor & Industries regarding respiratory problems, he said.