Sen. Casey wants to add illnesses beyond Legionnaires' to VA reporting requirements
Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is toughening his proposal for new disclosure standards for Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, pushing to require they report to outside health agencies each case of several serious illnesses.
The Scranton Democrat's plan in March would have applied only to Legionnaires' disease, a sometimes-fatal form of pneumonia that sickened as many as 21 veterans from February 2011 to November 2012 in the Pittsburgh VA hospital system.
“The goal is basically to hold the VA accountable in ways it hasn't been held accountable to date,” Casey, D-Scranton, told the Tribune-Review on Thursday. “It's unfortunate that we have to specify in a prescriptive way those entities that the VA should report to, but that's what we have to do.”
As federal facilities, VA hospitals fall outside conventional standards for reporting infectious diseases to state and county health departments, though many VA facilities do so voluntarily. The Tribune-Review discovered the loopholes in a March investigation into the Legionnaires' outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in Oakland and O'Hara. Five of the sickened veterans died.
The Pittsburgh VA “could have and probably should have” shared information more readily with health officials as the outbreak developed, acting state Secretary of Health Michael Wolf told the Trib last week.
VA Pittsburgh spokesman David Cowgill declined to comment on Thursday on Casey's expanded reporting proposal but has said the Pittsburgh system consistently shares “all information” with state and county officials. A national VA spokesman said he is looking into Casey's proposal.
Under Casey's plan, 152 VA medical centers and 1,400 outpatient clinics nationwide would be required to alert immediately the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and county health departments every time they find Legionnaires' disease, rabies, measles or yellow fever. Casey said he is still weighing whether to add more bacteria-related ailments to the list.
He said he reworked the plan after his staff consulted with the CDC.
Better disease surveillance “is clearly a key” to stopping future outbreaks, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.
“CDC shares the goal of having the best possible surveillance systems to track disease in order to protect the nation's health,” he said.
Health officials including Dr. Ronald Voorhees, the Allegheny County acting health director, have said prompt, complete reporting is critical in helping public officials find links among individual cases of disease.
Voorhees applauded Casey's approach, saying open collaboration with health agencies “adds more of a seamlessness that, hopefully, will increase the effectiveness and timeliness of the response we can assist with.”
“If what the VA is seeing is a reflection of what's happening in the community, there's a direct tie there,” said Dr. Paul Etkind, senior director for infectious diseases at the National Association of County and City Health Officials in Washington. “The sooner that everybody is informed, the swifter control measures can be put into place.”
The Pittsburgh VA outbreak prompted several federal reviews, including one by the VA Office of Inspector General in Washington. Casey said he will introduce his bill after the OIG releases its report, which he expects this month.
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.
- Terror threat doesn’t keep Pittsburgh International travelers down
- Pittsburgh on cusp of leaving fiscal oversight
- Newsmaker: Dr. Mark G. Trombetta
- Allegheny County closings for the holiday
- In letter, Plum school superintendent reassures parents on safety
- Experts who support letting refugees into U.S. say refusal fuels extremism
- McCullough’s attorney alleges ‘peculiar’ behavior of judge in withdrawn motion
- Swissvale teen on his way to high school shot 5 times, survives
- Plea deal in the works for McCandless woman accused of drowning 2 young sons in bathtub
- Cheaper gas expected to boost Thanksgiving travel
- North Side stabber sentenced to 20 to 40 years