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Former greeter alleges he got Legionnaires' disease at Pittsburgh VA

Brian Bowling
| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 7:06 p.m.

A homeless veteran seeking help ended up with permanent lung and kidney damage because of negligence at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System that caused him to contract Legionnaires' disease, the veteran says in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday.

Kenneth Jordan, 62, says in the lawsuit that he requires kidney dialysis three times a week. He is staying in the St. Joseph House of Hospitality in the Hill District, according to the lawsuit.

The timing of his reported illness coincides with a fatal Legionnaires' outbreak from February 2011 to November 2012 at Department of Veterans Affairs campuses in Oakland and O'Hara.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the outbreak likely killed at least five and sickened at least 16 others. The CDC tied the problem to Legionella bacteria in the hospital's water system.

Gary Lang, one of Jordan's lawyers, said that while his client had a pre-existing kidney problem, they contend that Legionella further damaged his kidneys.

“We contend that he had Legionella when he was admitted to the hospital, and that he contracted it while working at the VA,” he said.

Ramona Joyce, a national VA spokeswoman, referred questions to the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment.

Jordan, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 1978, approached the VA in 2011 seeking medical and financial help under its Health Care for Homeless Veterans program, his lawsuit says.

As part of the program, the VA made him a greeter at the University Drive hospital in Oakland, where he worked several hours a week in 2011 and 2012 until he became ill and was admitted to the hospital on May 29, 2012, with symptoms of hypoxia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the lawsuit says.

He was placed in the intensive care unit and, on June 8, 2012, tested positive for Legionella, the lawsuit says. The bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia.

Jordan, who has worked as a musician, had fallen on hard times and approached the VA for help, Lang said. He's not vindictive about what happened to him, but he hopes to get the cost of his medical treatment covered and get his life back on track, Lang said.

Jordan's complaint marks at least the third Legionnaires'-related lawsuit since the Pittsburgh outbreak.

Families of two World War II veterans — John J. Ciarolla, 83, of North Versailles and William E. Nicklas, 87, of Hampton — have pending wrongful-death complaints against the federal government. Both men died during the outbreak.

Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report. Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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