LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan ordered a Flint hospital Tuesday to immediately comply with federal recommendations that were issued due to its association with a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, saying the hospital’s water system is unsanitary and a possible source of illness.
The order, which was issued by the state Department of Health and Human Services, said McLaren Flint has insufficiently demonstrated compliance with recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the fall.
Some outside experts suspect the 2014-15 outbreak was linked to a man-made public health crisis caused by Flint’s lead-contaminated tap water, but the state said a review of information initially provided by the hospital “has raised several new questions that require answers.”
The state cited a report from December 2014 in which a company that tested McLaren’s water said it seemed that the municipal water was not contributing to the hospital’s Legionella bacteria issues and the issues instead were “likely internal to the hospital system.” The state said it will appoint a monitor, conduct independent water testing and force the hospital to cooperate with all requests for information.
A McLaren spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment. The state, which has come under scrutiny for mishandling the outbreak and waiting to notify the public, has been following up on Legionnaires’ cases after winning a legal dispute over access to records. It has wanted to know more about what the hospital is doing to strengthen its water system.
The order came the same day the mayor of Flint was planning to meet with Gov. Rick Snyder to discuss Michigan’s decision to withdraw some financial assistance that was originally offered to help the beleaguered city and its residents cope with the crisis.
The state announced three weeks ago that it will stop paying a portion of customers’ bills and also halt covering Flint’s costs to use water from the Great Lakes Water Authority — a move that will save the state more than $2 million per month.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Monday that the customer credits were supposed to continue through March and that she is disappointed by the “short notice” that they will last instead through February. She said during a news conference at city hall that while her goal is to get “the state out” of Flint, “we weren’t ready for credits to be suspended.”
Weaver’s office will discuss her concerns with Snyder at a meeting Tuesday afternoon in Lansing. His office reiterated that the payments will end because the level of lead in the city’s water no longer exceeds the federal limit. Residents are still encouraged to use faucet filters provided by the state.
Snyder’s office estimates that the state will have spent $41 million partially reimbursing customer bills for a nearly three-year period ending after the February billing cycle. Another $17.8 million has been contributed toward Flint’s Great Lakes Water Authority payments, including a $6 million reconnection fee.
“The city does have the option to extend water bill credits through its budget,” Snyder’s spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.
Weaver said city officials argue that the credits — which cover roughly two-thirds of the water portion of residential water/sewer bills — should last until the water is safe to drink without a filter, “so we’re going to continue to keep pushing that because we know we deserve more.”
Flint’s water emergency began when lead from old underground lines leached into the water supply because corrosion-reducing phosphates were not added due to an incorrect reading of federal regulations by state regulators. Elevated levels of lead, a neurotoxin, were detected in children, and 12 people died in the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak — 10 of them associated with McLaren.
Michigan has allocated $253 million toward resolving the emergency. Criminal charges have been brought against 13 current or former government officials, including two emergency managers who were appointed by Snyder to run the city. The Republican governor is asking the GOP-led Legislature for nearly $49 million for the next budget year for more filter cartridges, continued health and other services, and to bolster a reserve fund for future needs such as lead pipe replacements.
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