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Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh hospital reopens intensive care unit

Ben Schmitt
| Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, 12:17 p.m.

The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System reopened an intensive care unit at its University Drive campus six days after finding mold in a ventilation system.

Third-party test results cleared the way for the opening, the VA said in a statement Friday.

“VA Pittsburgh employees pulled together, worked together and focused on getting this unit back into action as swiftly as possible — and getting on to what we do best: caring for veterans,” said Dr. Timothy Burke, the health care system's interim director.

Technicians initially found the mold in an air handler during routine maintenance, and doctors at the hospital have not diagnosed any mold-related illnesses.

The hospital closed the general medical ICU, along with a sleep lab and administrative offices that are part of the same ventilation system, as a precaution.

“Patient safety is our top priority, and mold — while it lives everywhere — just doesn't belong and most certainly isn't welcome in our hospital,” says Dr. Brooke Decker, VA Pittsburgh director of infection prevention. “In this instance, we knew there was no risk to patients, but we acted anyway. This is because we are committed to taking the right steps every single time the situation calls for it.”

Six patients who were in the unit were moved elsewhere before the maintenance started, the VA said this week.

Decker said the hospital has been tracking mold infections in patients since 2011 and has not had any cases associated with the unit the air handler serves.

Earlier this year, officials at UPMC disclosed that four patients contracted mold infections at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore in Oakland. The infections occurred within the past 15 months.

UPMC officials said three of the patients died, but their deaths cannot be directly attributed to the infections.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on a report on the UPMC incidents.

Ben Schmitt is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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