- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - A patient at Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital has tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease.

The patient had recently been transported from Western State Hospital to a medical facility in Lakewood with symptoms of pneumonia, and tested positive for the disease, according to Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services.

Hospitals where two other Western State Hospital patients are being treated for pneumonia have been notified of the positive Legionnaires’ test result, Spears said.

Some hospital staff are concerned about their health due to 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 are often 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’s not spread through person-to-person contact, said Dr. James Polo, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

The hospital has asked the local county health department to test the hospital’s water system, which 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 Tacoma/Pierce County Health agency, which is leading the investigation, said David Johnson, a spokesman for the department.

Paul Vilja, a nursing supervisor at Western State Hospital, said he has received reports from a number of staff who say they’ve become sick. He received a text from one worker who reported being weak and tired and heading to the Urgent Care on Wednesday. Another staff member complained of coughing and an inability to sleep.

In the past, their 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 and Industry regarding respiratory problems, he said.

The facility is already under scrutiny by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over concerns involving patient safety. Officials at the Lakewood hospital have signed a detailed agreement with federal regulators to fix safety problems or lose millions of federal dollars.

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