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VA would have to report Legionnaires' and other diseases within 24 hours under legislation

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 5:12 p.m.

Veterans Affairs health care facilities would have to report within 24 hours cases of Legionnaire's and other major infectious diseases to several agencies, patients and employees under companion legislation introduced Thursday by U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, earlier this month introduced a Senate version of the bill. Both proposals came as a result of a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2011 and 2012 at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Contaminated water at VA campuses in O'Hara and Oakland sickened as many as 21 veterans.

“You can't manage what you don't measure, which is why our bill establishes a strong framework for VA hospitals to collect and share life-saving information with the CDC and health departments,” Murphy said.

A report by the VA Office of the Inspector General issued April 24 found the Pittsburgh VA did not follow its guidelines in combating the deadly Legionella bacteria. Among other things, the report showed workers failed to test some patients with pneumonia for Legionnaires' disease.

A Trib investigation published in March found VA facilities are under no obligation to report cases of infectious diseases in the way other hospitals do. The House bill would require the VA inspector general to investigate any failure to comply with reporting requirements. An employee who fails to report infectious disease can face suspension, according to the bill.

The disease would have to be reported to the following: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the state and/or county health department, both in which the affected hospital is located and where the individual is a resident; the Veterans Administration in Washington; the patient's primary care provider; the patients and next of kin; all employees at the affected VA facility.

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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