Officials with the VA Pittsburgh Health System have revealed that about 10 veterans may have been sickened by Legionella bacteria several years before a larger outbreak that began in 2011.
That has been blamed for five deaths, and at least 16 people were infected in 2011 and 2012. Since that time investigations have found lax reporting of Legionella bacteria in the system and other issues. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) said trust has been a major issue between the VA system and its veterans.
“We recognize that Legionella exists in what’s called the biofilm of any water pipe, but because they are a hospital and they deal with transplants out there for people whose health is compromised, they have to make sure they take extra precautions to clean the system out,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the VA system needs to have a very high standard when it comes to dealing with veterans. He said lawmakers have been assured procedures have changed or are changing, but he said that trust issue remains.
“Before when they said they were taking precautions it became pretty clear, and it was verified by the Inspector General’s report, that what they were using was not appropriate and far from adequate,” Murphy said. “Now they’re going to take other steps. Now they are going to be working with other groups to make sure they fix that system.”
Murphy said the revelation by VA Pittsburgh’s chief of staff that there were more Legionella infections than previously thought is a step in the right direction when it comes to rebuilding trust. But he said lawmakers will not rest on the issue.
“We’re still going to push for legislation regarding reporting requirements including a fine if they do not comply, because we think that a regulation without any teeth may not be adhered to,” Murphy said.
Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado introduced a bill that would require all VA medical facilities in the United States to report any cases of infectious disease to their related state health departments. Currently non-federal hospitals are required to do just that, but VA facilities are exempt.
That bill is similar to a Senate bill from Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey that would also require facilities to report to county health departments.