The Rhoda Read maternity unit in Morrinsville was closed to new birthing admissions on Friday, after one of its showerheads tested positive for legionella.
Post-natal and emergency care will continue at the facility, but it is unclear if birthing services will be reinstated.
The legionella bacteria spreads through mist or vapor and cannot be transmitted from person to person. Legionnaires' disease can be mild, but in severe cases it can lead to lung infection or pneumonia.
The find came after plumbing contractors installed an ionisation hot-water treatment system on July 22. When the work was finished they took samples from showerheads at the facility and sent them to Environmental Science & Research (ESR) for testing.
News of the closure is being viewed with suspicion by Hamilton-based Labour MP Sue Moroney, given the Waikato District Health Board's indications it is considering closing the facility.
Women rarely use the shower, as it is some distance from the maternity rooms.
The health board will conduct retests in all maternity unit showerheads, including the one that returned a positive test, and send them to ESR.
The results will not be known for 10 to 12 days.
Women in labour are now being sent to Thames Birthing Unit or Waikato Hospital to give birth.
Women who have birthed elsewhere but want to continue postnatal care and receive breast-feeding support at Rhoda Read can do so, but will have to shower at the adjoining continuing care facility.
Emergency or unexpected admissions will continue.
"This is not ideal for them from a patient experience perspective," clinical midwife director Corli Roodt said.
"But some women have said to us that they would prefer to be close to home after they've birthed and are prepared to have the inconvenience of showering in the continuing care facility if it means they have access to the post-natal care."
Ms Moroney said the legionella scare was "very convenient" for the health board.
Both Rhoda Read and the Matariki Birthing Unit in Te Awamutu could be centralised to Hamilton following a review initiated by the Waikato District Health Board. The change would mean expectant mothers living further afield could face a extra 30-minute trek to Hamilton to have their babies delivered.
The health board estimates cost savings of $1.29 million if the two facilities are closed.
"Given the unit is still open, it seems an over-reaction to close it to new patients," she said.
She stopped short of saying the closure was a deliberate move on the part of the health board to justify permanent closure of the facilities.
"Let's just say I will be very interested to see what the results are at the end of that 10 to 12-day process. It's very interesting there was no immediate danger, but an immediate response."
The health board said it would contact women who were in the maternity unit since July 22, tell them of the positive result, and suggest they seek medical advice from their GP if they are concerned.
Rhoda Read Continuing Care facility is unaffected by the situation.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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