Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has signed into law legislation aimed at protecting senior living residents in the state from waterborne illnesses.

The measure, signed May 27 and going into effect immediately, requires public water supply operators to notify senior living and healthcare facilities of water supply disruptions that could lead to water quality and microbial risks, such as Legionella and other pathogens. They must tell facilities at least 30 days before any known, planned or anticipated disruption event and within one hour after learning of an unplanned disruption event. 

Although water systems generally are well-managed, disruptions caused by water main breaks, flooding, construction, changes in water treatment, pressure and flow changes can dislodge biofilm in the distribution systems and release bacteria and contaminants downstream to high-risk populations. 

A study published online earlier this year in Emerging Infectious Diseases found that the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease has been on the rise for more than 15 years. People can get the lung infection by breathing in small droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria. 

Notifications from water utilities of disruptions as required under the new measure will help facilities better manage the water they receive and protect their occupants from waterborne bacteria, Matt Hartman, executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association/Illinois Center for Assisted Living, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

“We are supportive of the governor’s actions with this legislation,” Hartman said. “Care providers are already required to have plans in place in case of disruptions of water service, among the many other emergency preparedness situations they must plan for. The notice provided in this legislation provides another critical layer of protection in implementing those plans timely in situations where a disruption has occurred which may cause the presence of legionella or another waterborne pathogen in the public water supply, ensuring the safety of those we care for remains priority one in these circumstances.”

Other industry associations also praised the governor’s efforts to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases in a reasonable and achievable way while not being overly burdensome or costly. 

“The bill signed into law by Gov. Pritzker protects our residents through realistic preventions that are done with reasonable effort,” Angela Schnepf, president and CEO of LeadingAge Illinois, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “This legislation is a prime example of how great work can be accomplished when all parties are brought to the table early on to discuss solutions to challenges facing our seniors and other vulnerable populations.”