Outbreak of Legionnaires' disease destroyed vets' trust in VA system
The fatal outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that shook the Pittsburgh VA hospital system didn't just claim lives.
It rattled public confidence in the hospital system, stoking equal parts of fear and anger, veterans said at an American Legion meeting on Monday night in Squirrel Hill.
“I didn't find out about it until after the fact, and it was a shock,” said James M. Page III, 64, of Mt. Washington, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who joined others in calling for new VA leadership in Pittsburgh. “It's a lack of trust in the way the system is working. You want to trust the VA, but higher-ups wouldn't let the truth be known.”
David P. Cord, deputy director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, did not directly address the cover-up claims after the meeting, deferring instead to an open criminal investigation. He said the VA could explore better communication methods and “stands ready” to respond to the investigation's findings.
About 35 people attended the gathering at American Legion Post 577, a first step in a review of the Pittsburgh VA system by Legion executives visiting from Washington.
They will spend Tuesday and part of Wednesday reviewing programs at the VA hospital in Oakland, including how it prevents Legionnaires', said Jacob Gadd, deputy director of health care for the American Legion.
He said the visit “will give us first-hand knowledge” of how the hospital prevents the disease, a form of pneumonia spread through waterborne Legionella bacteria. It's blamed in at least five deaths and 16 non-fatal illnesses during 2011 and 2012 in the Pittsburgh VA system.
The outbreak — and five-figure performance bonuses received simultaneously by local VA executives — led American Legion officials to include the Pittsburgh VA in their review of 15 VA hospitals across the country, said Ron Conley, an American Legion board member and former national commander. He said they will review the VA Butler Healthcare System and delays in a $75 million center there.
“We want to make sure that the treatment of veterans is 100 percent, besides the Legionnaires' disease, and (see) how they're trying to get it under control,” said Conley, who doubles as Allegheny County director of veterans affairs. He spoke in his American Legion role.
The organization has been performing annual reviews for a decade, picking some medical centers at random and targeting others with well-documented problems. Findings from the Pittsburgh visit should be published in August.
The Legionnaires' outbreak and its handling remain the target of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Western Pennsylvania and the VA Office of Inspector General in Washington. A House subcommittee is investigating, as well.
A regional director supervising the Pittsburgh VA and nearby health systems, Michael Moreland, announced his retirement in October after months of public criticism. Gary W. Devansky succeeded Moreland last week.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 .
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.
- Penn Hills man arrested in fatal Elliott home invasion
- Nude photos of Penn Hills High School students spur investigation
- Ferrante, wife were at odds over trip
- Sham utility workers take Washington County couple for cash, jewels worth thousands
- Quiet move to Adams didn’t prevent woman’s slaying
- Legionnaires’ case was contracted elsewhere, Pittsburgh VA hospital says
- $412K sought to add lighting in East Liberty
- Moon Area School District considers installing solar panels for electricity
- Warrant issued for North Side teen in Penn Hills shooting
- Defense witness testifies on video, absent jurors, of cyanide alternatives
- Police ID naked man who fell over Shaler hillside