WASHINGTON – Late last week, the Washington City Paper reported that St. Elizabeths hospital, the District public psychiatric hospital, has been without running water since late September, when legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease, was found in the water supply during routine testing. An official from the Department of Behavioral Health, which manages the hospital, has stated patients have been using bottled water and sanitary wipes instead of showers, and that new patients are still being admitted to the hospital.

“What is happening at St. Elizabeths right now is a crisis,” said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia. “We call on Mayor Bowser to put an immediate halt to new admissions to the hospital and take all necessary steps to quickly transfer current St. Elizabeths patients to other local health facilities until the water problem is resolved, starting with the most vulnerable patients as identified by the health-care staff of the hospital. We are especially alarmed that the Department of Behavioral Health and the Mayor’s office have failed to publicly acknowledge the emergency nature of this situation, and we are concerned by efforts to downplay the significant health and safety risks to patients and staff working in a hospital without running water.”

As the City Paper noted in its story, this isn’t the first time St. Elizabeths has suffered from water problems. In 2016, a pipe ruptured and contaminated the water supply; the hospital was without water for six days. Today is the 12th day the hospital is without water. Service is not expected to be restored until early next week.

In addition to removing patients from the hospital while the water supply is fixed, the ACLU-DC calls on the D.C. Council to hold a public oversight hearing to fully examine how the hospital’s water supply became contaminated, what emergency protocols DBH had in place to protect patients and staff, and what steps the District will take to ensure this life-endangering situation does not happen again. In addition, given the recurring problems with St. Elizabeths, the Council’s Committee on Health should require regular reporting from DBH on the physical condition of the hospital’s infrastructure.