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The Legionella response: Simply outrageous!

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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Oakland VA hospital's foot-dragging response to a Legionella bacteria outbreak is among the Department of Veterans Affairs' most egregious failures to uphold this nation's sacred duty to all who've worn its uniform. The outbreak not only led to at least five veterans' deaths, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says, it endangered the public at large — FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS!

The waterborne bacteria cause Legionnaire's disease, an often-fatal pneumonia. The report says VA officials, told by the CDC that Legionella was causing pneumonia at the Oakland hospital, waited two weeks before publicly acknowledging Legionnaire's cases there in mid-November.

Yet they knew of the Legionella problem long before that. From January 2011 to October 2012, hospital pipes were super-heated and flushed a half-dozen times. The Legionella outbreak was chronic and VA officials obviously didn't know how to get rid of the threat.

A hospital lab sometimes waited more than two days before informing an infection-prevention team of patients' Legionella-positive test results. And so rampant was the run of this deadly bacterium that it even contaminated an outdoor decorative fountain.

Oakland VA hospital officials, obviously more concerned with appearances and covering their rear ends than with veterans' and public health, did a reprehensibly poor job of addressing their Legionella problem.

Such an execrable episode cannot be tolerated. Heads must roll. And after a thorough housecleaning eliminates the Legionella, there must be an equally thorough housecleaning of every person responsible.

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