Heatwave conditions and operational shortfalls are posing challenges in some Ontario long-term care (LTC) homes that do not have central air conditioning. As reported to the REMI Network on Aug. 23, staff in at least one such facility are dumping the collected condensation from portable air conditioners down sinks or toilets in residents’ rooms — a practice deemed to present a low risk for the spread of Legionella bacteria, but, nevertheless, far from the preferred maintenance standard.
“A best practice would be properly draining that water somewhere, but that might not be considered practical if this is just an interim measure before a central air conditioning system is installed,” observes Brennan Ficko, a project manager and environmental and risk management professional with Pinchin Ltd., a consulting firm specializing in environmental services.
Commenting on a REMI Network news item from May 2021 — which outlined details of a new Ontario regulation stipulating that LTC homes must have a mechanical cooling system to, at minimum, keep designated areas of the facility at a temperature no higher than 22 degrees Celsius — the LTC employee chronicles the problematic logistics in her workplace.
“They have installed portable air conditioners at the end of each hall that we, the staff, empty three times per shift for each air conditioner unit,” she writes. “That means lugging at least 10 to 15 litres of water to the closest resident room and dumping this container of water into the toilet or sink, while spilling water on the floor, as it is very awkward to manage.”
Legionella bacteria, which causes a pneumonia-like illness considered most threatening to people with chronic health conditions and compromised immunity, typically flourishes in warm stagnant water. It infiltrates respiratory systems in droplet form, inhaled from mist or vapour.
“When it comes to Legionella, the risk comes from aerosolization of the bacteria and breathing it into your lungs,” Ficko affirms — suggesting that’s not likely to occur in the scenario the LTC employee cites.
Neither the Ministry of Long-Term Care nor the office of Minister Rod Phillips has responded to requests for comment.
“The Long-Term Care Ministry must immediately investigate this report of portable air conditioning units being emptied in resident sinks and toilets and take action without delay to protect seniors from any risks it identifies,” urges France Gélinas, a member of provincial parliament and health critic for the Ontario NDP.