Legislation would suspend those who don't notify of Legionnaires' disease
Regional directors in the Department of Veterans Affairs who fail to notify state and county health officials of infectious-disease cases could face suspension or more severe discipline under a bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Bob Casey Jr.
Casey, D-Scranton, pledged to strengthen transparency and accountability standards for the nation's 152 VA medical centers and nearly 1,400 outpatient clinics because of a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2011 and 2012 in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. As many as 21 veterans contracted Legionnaires', a form of pneumonia, from contaminated water on VA campuses in Oakland and O'Hara, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Five of them died.
Casey doesn't know whether his legislation would have stopped the outbreak, but said it should shore up lackluster communication inside the VA network.
“One of the real problems here was this inability to have a rigorous notification system in place, this failure to have in place a structured and effective communication system so the guy who knows something about the water system and the pipes is interacting with the scientists and the infectious-disease people,” Casey said.
Pittsburgh VA officials “could have and probably should have” shared information more readily with public health agencies during the Legionnaires' outbreak, acting state Secretary of Health Michael Wolf told the Tribune-Review.
A Trib investigation published in March revealed that VA hospitals, as federal facilities, fall outside state health rules that require other hospitals to report cases of infectious diseases. Although many VA facilities comply voluntarily, they are under no legal liability to do so.
Casey's bill, which the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs will review, specifies requirements for VA facilities. He said the legislation is intended to “help ensure an outbreak like this never goes unreported again.”
The bill would require regional VA directors to alert state and county health departments to cases of CDC-listed notifiable infectious diseases within 24 hours of confirmation.
In each case, the CDC, national VA officials, the patient's primary-care provider and next-of-kin and VA workers in the affected hospital would receive alerts.
The VA Office of Inspector General would have to submit annual compliance reports to Congress and investigate compliance failures. Regional VA directors found to be responsible would be suspended, and the VA secretary could order additional discipline “as the secretary considers appropriate,” according to the bill.
The VA would not comment on the legislation but is “directly engaged” with Congress on the issue, spokesman Mark Ballesteros said.
Casey's bill is similar to legislation introduced last week by Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who chairs the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Other House legislation developed in consultation with Casey's office and members of the Pennsylvania delegation will be introduced soon, said Matt Dinkel, a spokesman for Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him 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.
- Interest high for Heinz Field soccer match
- Polamalu enters training camp as Steelers’ longest tenured player
- Late afternoon fire destroys Manor home
- NFL notebook: Broncos owner Bowlen has Alzheimer’s, steps down
- S&P 500 reaches new heights
- Fayette woman dies in fall from ATV on National Pike
- Starkey: Pirates, Burnett could work again
- 3 identified in Route 66 crash near Delmont
- Penguins assistant Martin gets new job title
- VA settles three more Legionnaires’ cases
- Man told transit police the Boston Marathon bomber ‘was my best friend’