VA Systems Would be Required to Report Instances of Legionella under New Casey Bill

Mar 26, 2013

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey will introduce a bill that would require VA facilities to report incidents of Legionnaires' disease.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is introducing a bill that would require any Veterans Affairs health system to report an incident of Legionnaires ’ disease and detection of the Legionella bacteria within 24 hours.

“To be blunt about this, we shouldn’t have to legislate this,” Casey said. “This should be standard practice at the VA, but it isn’t. Therefore we have to legislate and provide a measure of accountability.”

The bill would require notification to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., county and state health departments, providers that do business in the affected facility and employees of that particular facility.

Upon confirming an instance of Legionella in the water system, the VA would also be required to provide a report to those same entities. That report would identify the location of the outbreak, the impact on patients and a plan to eradicate Legionella from the site.

“It’s not good enough to simply inform people," Casey said. "You’ve got to have an action plan to deal with it. That would be the other part of this legislation. Part of that action plan would provide a history of recordings that led to the detection of the disease.”

The draft legislation comes after 21 VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System patients contracted Legionella bacteria since 2011. Five of them died.

In December, Casey asked the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate.

In particular he asked the inspector general if the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System was adequately maintaining their water treatment system, what steps need to be taken to prevent future outbreaks and what actions are recommended moving forward.

Casey said the report is expected sometime in April.

“That inspector general’s report will inform the legislation,” he said. “We might add things or change things based upon the report, and we may not, but I want to make sure that when I introduce this bill that we’ve reviewed the inspector general’s report to see if it sheds some light on what we’re trying to do.”

Casey said he hopes to introduce the bill in the next two weeks.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by inhaling water vapor or mist containing Legionella bacteria. It can’t be transmitted person-to-person.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story reported that five VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System patients contracted Legionella bacteria last year, killing one. However, since 2011, 21 patients have contracted the bacteria and five have died. The story has been updated.