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In month-long saga, water restrictions reinstated at Ellicott City retirement community

Water restrictions were reinstituted this week at an early retirement community in Ellicott City that has struggled to remove traces of a rare type of pneumonia since early June.
Water restrictions were reinstituted this week at an early retirement community in Ellicott City that has struggled to remove traces of a rare type of pneumonia since early June. (Fatimah Waseem)

The county's health department reinstituted water restrictions at the Lutheran Village at Miller's Grant, a retirement community that opened in February in Ellicott City that has struggled to rid its water of bacteria linked to Legionnaire's disease — a severe type of pneumonia —for more than a month.

The health department lifted water restrictions in mid-July that were in place after several rounds of testing and treatment that began in early June. But test results received on Wednesday still show some of the water contains low levels of the bacteria.

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The Lutheran Village at Miller's Grant, a newly opened retirement community in Ellicott City, will shut off water in three apartment buildings on Monday after a resident was diagnosed with legionnaire's disease, a severe type of pneumonia.

Miller's Grant management staff imposed community-wide water restrictions on Thursday after receiving the results, according to Lisa Albin, a spokeswoman for the retirement community.

Legionnaire's is caused by breathing in small drops of water that contain the bacteria legionella. Water sources like tubs, water tanks and plumbing systems are common sources of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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No additional residents have been diagnosed with the disease since three cases linked to the facility surfaced in late May, Albin said.

Despite testing numerous water sources in the residential community, health officials did not pinpoint the source of the disease, but de Hernandez said residents likely contracted from the retirement community.

Residents, some of whom have limited mobility, have been told to avoid using tap water and taking showers. Management distributed bottled water to residents, Albin said.

After financial challenges brought by the recession, the project, Lutheran Village at Miller's Grant, officially opened its doors on Friday, becoming the first continuing care retirement community in the state in seven years.

Six residents, some of whom have health concerns, are living in hotels as a result of the issue, she said. Others chose to stay with relatives as water treatment continues.

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The disease disproportionately impacts people with weak immune systems. Individuals 50 years or older are at special risk, according to the CDC.

Overall, residents were taking the news in stride, said Jan Nelson, a 63-year-old resident who was on the waiting list for the retirement community for seven years.

"It's easier to put up with some inconveniences knowing that the entire experience is on the plus side," Nelson said. " It's a very flexible community. It's more of a joke among us than anything else."

Susan Polniaszek, 70, said Miller's Grant has been proactive despite sporadic water restrictions and traces of the disease.

"At lunch time [on Thursday], we're all joking around about the restrictions. Everyone came down [for lunch] and really appreciated that Miller's Grant has taken a proactive stance," said Polniaszek, who was also on the waiting list for five years.

The Howard County Health Department lifted a nearly two-week long water restriction at the Lutheran Village at Miller's Grant, a newly opened Ellicott City retirement community where three residents were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe type of pneumonia.

The retirement community, a mix of 241 residential units, opened after nearly a decade of planning. Carroll Lutheran Village owns and sponsors the community, which was made possible by a gift from the Miller family.

"It's just been heartbreaking to have this happen as soon as we opened," Albin said.

The county health department is awaiting instructions from state health officials on next steps, according to Lisa de Hernandez, a public information officer for the county's health department.

Miller's Grant management is also working on installing a new water treatment system over the next several weeks, Albin said.

This story will be updated.

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