House subcommittee to review Legionnaires' outbreak in Pittsburgh facility
By Adam Smeltz
Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The fatal Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System will come under new congressional scrutiny next month, with testimony expected in Washington from scientists, health experts and leadership in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
An investigative subcommittee at the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs scheduled a Feb. 5 hearing on the waterborne outbreak that is blamed in at least one veteran's death last year, said U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. They sought the hearing to highlight standards for water purification, whether the Pittsburgh VA followed those standards and how to prevent repeat episodes, they said.
“The people who are responsible should be held accountable,” said Doyle, whose district includes the Oakland VA hospital at the center of the outbreak. “I'm prepared to let the experts do their job and let the chips fall where they may.”
A list of witnesses expected for the hearing was not available Thursday, though Doyle and Murphy said they anticipate testimony from the VA and experts in Legionnaires' prevention and water treatment.
The VA Office of Inspector General is doing a separate review of the Oakland outbreak and the control of Legionella bacteria at other VA hospitals, with findings expected in March.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, called for that review and better overall communication from the VA.
“I have to say it's improved, but the real proof will be over time in terms of how they take steps to prevent this from happening and make changes,” Casey said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is investigating, as well.
VA officials learned Wednesday of the House hearing plans, spokesman David Cowgill said. He said federal officials handling the inspector general review recently left Pittsburgh.
“A designee identified by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Eric K. Shinseki) has been invited to testify” Feb. 5, Cowgill wrote via email. “VA's witness and testimony will be submitted in advance of the hearing.”
Tests found five patients contracted Legionnaires', a sometimes-fatal form of pneumonia, at the Pittsburgh VA. Four recovered.
The VA first announced the outbreak to the public on Nov. 16, about a week before World War II veteran William E. Nicklas, 87, of Hampton died of Legionnaires' at the Oakland hospital. His relatives believe he contracted the disease inside the facility and that his death was “very, very preventable,” attorney Harry S. Cohen said.
Cohen announced in December the Nicklas family plans a legal claim against the VA as a way to focus attention on the situation. Illinois manufacturer LiquiTech Environmental Solutions reported finding deficiencies in the Oakland hospital's water systems nearly 12 months before the VA revealed the outbreak, tentatively tied to contaminated tap water.
“There is reason to believe they (VA officials) were in a position to do something about this before Mr. Nicklas was even a patient there,” Cohen said on Thursday.
The Oakland hospital and the VA H.J. Heinz Campus in O'Hara switched to different water-treatment technology after finding Legionella in their water supplies. The bacteria cause Legionnaires' disease.
Murphy said lawmakers will use the inspector general's findings and House hearing testimony to explore future standards for guarding against Legionnaires'. The Oakland hospital reported 29 Legionnaires' cases between January 2011 and November 2012, with “extensive reviews” finding five began within the facility.
Eight developed elsewhere, and 16 have unknown origins, the VA reported.
“Keep in mind these (Legionella) can live in any hospital system,” Murphy said. “But this is a federal facility for our veterans. We want to know that veterans can go into a hospital and trust that everything's in place to keep them healthy and not make them worse.”
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.
- Corbett signs bills on abuse
- Sentence light in income tax scam
- Carnegie Mellon University eyes global perspective with new president
- Newsmaker: Thom Cobb
- Health care navigators sign up just 10 in Allegheny County
- Bob’s Garage not just about the decorations
- $2B a year in sales depends on benevolence of tissue donor families, companies admit
- Chevron targets location in Moon
- Pa. bill would require drug testing for school job applicants
- Woman charged after fracas in Strip District tavern
- Second-floor fire displaces five in Dormont