Allison Park resident identified as Legionnaires' disease victim
Relatives of a VA hospital patient who died of Legionnaires' disease plan to bring a legal claim against the federal government, demanding an explanation of conditions in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, their attorney said on Monday.
World War II veteran William E. Nicklas, 87, of Hampton died Nov. 23 at the VA's University Drive Campus in Oakland two days after the VA told his family that he contracted the respiratory disease, his sons said. They said Nicklas had been in the hospital since Nov. 1, when doctors admitted him for dehydration upon a VA visit in October.
“He looked at the VA as a place where he could go and receive the best care in the world. He felt honored to go there and seek treatment along with other veterans,” said son David Nicklas, 45, of Hampton, who appeared with his brothers, Ken and Robert, at a Downtown news conference. It was the first time anyone identified the only confirmed death from a Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the hospital.
“He trusted that the VA would give him the best care, and unfortunately, the VA betrayed that trust,” David Nicklas said.
He believes his father represented the fifth Legionnaires' case in a hospital outbreak the VA first reported on Nov. 16, he said. VA officials announced the fifth case on Nov. 22, a day before William Nicklas died.
The Allegheny County Health Department announced on Nov. 30 that someone died from the outbreak.
The VA declined to comment Monday on pending litigation.
“Based on information we have obtained, (Nicklas') death was very, very preventable,” said Harry S. Cohen, a Downtown attorney representing the Nicklas family. “The Oakland VA facility apparently failed to maintain its water systems despite recurring illnesses, despite warning from experts.”
Cohen said the family “thinks it's very important to draw attention to this matter” and prevent other deaths. He notified the government that the family intends to proceed with a claim against the department under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Although the effort would be classified as a monetary claim, Cohen said, relatives are not seeking a specific amount. They want to force an explanation for circumstances surrounding the death and to correct the system so “this doesn't happen to any other veterans,” Cohen said.
He said the federal government would have six months to investigate and respond to the claim before his firm could file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Cohen confirmed the Nicklas family had communication with the VA during the weekend but declined to discuss details of that contact.
The VA has fallen under scrutiny from federal elected officials, several of whom have pushed the department for answers. Last week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said even he had grown frustrated with just trying to connect with VA officials, and he urged them to communicate better with veterans.
Survived by his wife, Greta, and five grandchildren, William Nicklas was a joyful patriot who served in the Navy for two years before an honorable discharge in May 1946, his sons said. He returned to Western Pennsylvania, where he started an auto body shop in Glenshaw and maintained good health before falling sick in early October, David Nicklas said.
He said more than 100 people turned out for a memorial service during the weekend, when his father would have turned 88.
“Every day, he would put the flag up in the morning and took it down at night,” said Robert Nicklas, 55, of Gibsonia. “He was so proud of that.”
Four patients in the Legionnaires' outbreak recovered from the waterborne disease, a form of pneumonia linked to bacteria in tap water at the Oakland and H.J. Heinz VA facilities. Spokesman David Cowgill said last week that an investigation involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was ongoing.
Four workers at the Oakland hospital also developed respiratory problems and were being tested for a possible Legionnaires' connection, according to their union.
The death of another Oakland VA patient, John Ciarolla, 83, of North Versailles raised questions for his son, John R. Ciarolla, 57, of Irwin. He said his father died at the VA in July 2011 as a consequence of pneumonia.
“At this point, I'm not going to rush to judgment,” Ciarolla said. “I know something doesn't smell right. It smells lousy. But I don't know enough yet.”
The CDC may release its findings in a month.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- State AG Kane jumps in UPMC-Highmark dispute
- Steelers receiver Brown attends workouts despite previous comments
- Man found dead in Lower Burrell
- Grand jury presentment: AG Kane lied, attempted to cover up leak
- Plum students protest orders to keep mum about sex cases
- Woman shot in knee in Hazelwood
- Crosby, Malkin want to remain in Pittsburgh
- Injured Penguins optimistic about returning next season
- Fayette man dies after accidental fire in home
- Whitehall man sentenced to time served for domestic assault of top prosecutor
- Committee picks plan to close Shaler Area's Jeffery Primary School