Pressure mounts for answers on Legionnaires' outbreak at VA
Sen. Bob Casey Jr. ramped up pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday, demanding answers to a dozen detailed questions about the fatal Legionnaires' outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
Casey sent his second letter in two weeks to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, asking when the Pittsburgh VA learned of elevated bacteria levels that led to the outbreak. He asked how the VA had been monitoring bacteria levels and when local officials told departmental leaders in Washington about the problem, among other inquiries.
The VA did not comment on when it might respond, though Shinseki has vowed to identify the cause of the outbreak and to improve communications with the public, according to Casey's office. He and Shinseki spoke by phone on Wednesday, Casey said.
“What apparently hadn't been done — and I urged him strongly to do this — is to communicate directly and more consistently with veterans and their families to make sure that they know what's happening, what the VA is finding,” said Casey, D-Scranton.
He said he, too, grew frustrated “just getting through to people over there” at the VA.
Officials announced the Legionnaires' outbreak on Nov. 16, saying four patients developed the waterborne disease at the University Drive Campus in Oakland. The VA announced a fifth patient case on Nov. 22.
One patient died, according to the Allegheny County Health Department. Four recovered, VA spokesman David Cowgill has said. Officials are determining whether four employees became sick with Legionnaires'.
Cowgill said one case might be linked to the VA's H.J. Heinz Campus near Aspinwall, which remained under water-use restrictions on Thursday. Legionella bacteria were spotted in the tap water there, too, Cowgill said.
The VA lifted water restrictions at the Oakland hospital last week after an extensive cleaning process.
Neither the VA nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said how the outbreak materialized, though the VA reported a water-treatment system in Oakland might not have been as effective as once thought. CDC findings may be released within about a month.
Other elected officials have joined Casey in pressing the VA for explanations. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Allentown, asked the VA to list steps taken to address the issue and ensure patient safety.
“The men and women who have bravely served our country deserve to know that their health care needs will be met in a safe and secure environment,” Toomey wrote in a letter to Shinseki on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said his staff has been in almost daily contact with the VA since the outbreak became public.
“We're certainly not ready to close the books on this one yet,” Doyle said. “We're not ready to pass judgment, either, because we don't have all the facts.”
He said critical questions center on the Oakland facility's water treatment set-up, which used a copper-silver ionization technology in place since 1993. Researchers familiar with the system said failures of the technology often stem from poor maintenance or monitoring.
“We need to understand this better and make sure controls were put in place,” Doyle said.
Adam Smeltz and Mike Wereschagin are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Steelers’ tarnished Bell rings true
- UPMC offering buyouts to 3,500 employees in cost-cutting move
- Vandals ruin Ligonier Township farmers’ garden
- Pirates notebook: Struggling Polanco held out of starting lineup
- Fire crews respond to Latrobe apartment house fire
- Tomlin gives suggestion Steelers won’t be shy about going for 2
- Steelers’ Brown: Attendance ‘never a doubt’ for offseason workouts
- Pirates win 5th straight as offense continues to click in win over Marlins
- Steelers notebook: LB Harrison open for larger role
- Swiss open criminal proceedings in 2018, ‘22 World Cup votes
- 2 injured in Upper Burrell head-on wreck