VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System: No wrongdoing in outbreak of Legionnaires
The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System said an internal investigation so far has found no evidence of wrongdoing at its facilities during an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease tied to five deaths, and apologized to veterans and families affected by the incident.
The emailed statement to the Tribune-Review cautioned that “reviews are ongoing” — a reference to national VA and Inspector General probes. It emphasized that local VA officials continue to take steps to control the Legionella bacteria and protect the safety of veterans.
“We sincerely apologize to any veterans and families who have been impacted by Legionella contracted at our facilities, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep the veterans we serve safe,” said the statement issued by Pittsburgh VA spokesman Dave Cowgill.
Cowgill released the statement in response to questions submitted by the Trib to the VA's top leaders, including Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health of the Veterans Health Administration and top aides to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Those officials did not respond directly and Cowgill's statement continued a pattern of local and regional VA officials ignoring questions the Trib has posed about the outbreak — despite a claim in the statement that the VA has been transparent.
In fact, VA officials have said little about the outbreak, which sickened as many as 21 veterans at the Oakland and O'Hara campuses between January 2011 and November 2012. Legionella bacteria also were found in a building at the VA Butler campus, but officials reported no cases there of Legionnaires', a form of pneumonia.
Records show the VA was aware of two cases within four months in 2011, which is within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended six-month range for action, but local VA officials did not tell the public it had a problem until mid-November 2012.
The statement said VA Pittsburgh officials are cooperating with the national VA Office of Inspector General, which is expected to issue a report this month.
“We're looking for answers, not just an apology,” said Judy Nicklas, daughter-in-law of William Nicklas, 87, a Navy veteran of World War II who died Nov. 23. She said “it's nice” the VA apologized but it's not enough.
Judy Nicklas, 55, of Adams and her family have expressed frustration at what they say is a lack of answers from the VA. The family has announced plans to sue.
Sandy Riley, 60, of Swissvale, whose brother Navy veteran Lloyd “Mitchell” Wanstreet, 65, of Jeannette died July 4 of a Legionella infection, said the apology is too little, too late.
“They're apologizing, but obviously that doesn't bring our families back,” said Riley, whose brother died at the VA's Oakland campus on University Drive after an extended stay at the Heinz campus in O'Hara for a leg ailment. “An apology isn't enough. It's just frustrating.”
Cowgill said a team of clinical and environmental experts from the Veterans Health Administration conducted a review of practices and protocols at the Pittsburgh VA but would not say when the review took place.
Cowgill said the VA submitted action plans to address recommendations made by the Joint Commission, a watchdog and major accreditor of hospitals nationwide that conducted an unannounced survey of the University Drive hospital campus on Dec. 18.
The Joint Commission asked the VA to “map its plumbing system in order to identify stagnation risks posed by dead-end sections of plumbing,” Cowgill said. The watchdog also recommended changes to the way the VA samples and tests its water systems.
The Joint Commission did not respond to a request for comment. Cowgill said the Joint Commission on March 1told the VA that “evidence of standard compliance has been accepted and no further response was required.”
Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report. Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 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.
- Pgh. International leader strives to inject Pittsburgh flavor into airport
- Owner of Penn Hills tombstone business pleads guilty to swindling the bereaved out of $90K
- Fire reported at recycling facility in Braddock
- No injuries reported in Holy Family Manor fire in Ross
- Groups seek $2.5M for North Side’s historic West Park fountain
- Man shot in Hill District
- Brookline 12-year-old crashes mother’s car
- Falling bricks close 2 Squirrel Hill businesses
- Ramp projects across Western Pennsylvania to start this week
- Newsmaker: Janice Cherry
- ‘Swing Night’ has feel of Prohibition-era dance hall