In healthcare environments, designers seek to create a soothing atmosphere that brings in elements from nature. We do this through choice of palette and materials as well as space planning, furniture selection, fabrics and artwork. In the past few years, open water features have also been included in design plans to heighten this feeling of tranquility. However, this feature has come under scrutiny because of some issues associated with them, such as problems with maintenance and infection control.
Hospital infection-control departments have particularly become concerned because an open water feature could hold “microorganisms that may cause nosocomial infections due to inhalation of aerosolized bacteria such as Legionella,” according to a 2006 article by Anjali Joseph, PhD and published by The Center for Health Design.
In fact, there have been reported cases of Legionnaire’s disease outbreaks related to water features in hospitals. A study published last year in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology cites a case from 2010 in which a Wisconsin hospital had an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that “was tied to eight patients who spent time near a decorative fountain in a hospital’s main lobby. Environmental testing found amounts of Legionnaire’s disease in samples collected from the water wall fountain.” The report says that after time the patients recovered from the disease and “no additional outbreaks occurred after the fountain, according to the study.”