All-clear given at DC’s St. Elizabeths after bacteria scare

The water is being turned back on at a D.C.-owned psychiatric hospital after it was off for about a month due to a bacteria scare.

St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast has been testing the water since legionella bacteria turned up during routine testing in late September, and the latest testing Wednesday led health officials to give the all-clear.

“I am very pleased to learn that after the second round of chlorination of the water system at St. Elizabeths Hospital, the water system has been successfully treated and all bacteria has been eliminated,” said D.C. Councilmember Vincent C. Gray, D-Ward 7.

The hospital is resuming normal water usage.

Gray said the toilets are fully operational and that faucet heads are being reconnected, a process that should be finished Thursday.

The hospital continues to look for possible sources of the bacteria and putting practices in place to prevent a reoccurrence.

The hospital said last week that attempts to treat its water system with chlorine were not successful.

That prompted scrutiny from lawmakers, including D.C. Council member David Grosso, who sent a letter to the behavioral health department demanding answers.

“The patients at the hospital deserve our careful care and attention,” he said in the letter. “They should receive no less than what would be afforded to patients at any other medical institution in town.”

Grosso requested “detailed” responses to several questions by the end of the day Friday, including where the contamination came from and why the chlorine treatment did not work.

While water was down, the hospital used bottled water for drinking and cooking and patients used hand wipes for bathing.

Legionella can cause a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease, though no one at the hospital became sick from it.

Gray said a public oversight hearing on the Department of Behavioral Health will be held at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church at 3000 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.

WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher and Megan Cloherty contributed to this story.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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