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More Lawmakers Call on VA to Address Infectious Disease Disclosures

Several members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation are calling on the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System to put in place new written guidelines outlining duties and responsibilities for infectious disease control.

This follows a scathing report from the VA Office of the Inspector General, which found that the VA Pittsburgh Health System failed to follow its own rules during an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that left five veterans dead from early 2011 to late 2012.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) said the protocols for notifying patients, physicians and others of the presence of infectious disease is vital for medical facilities.

“Any hospital system, any hotel, any apartment building, anything else that has a big water system – legionella is something that lives in the pipes,” Murphy said. “In most cases it doesn’t bother you because you’re healthy enough to fight it off. But in those cases where someone has pneumonia symptoms it is important to review whether they have legionella and what can be done within that water system to clean it out.”

Murphy, along with Reps. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Keith Rothfus (R-PA), met with VA system administrators following the inspector general’s report. They said VA management has agreed to provide lawmakers with copies of new written guidelines and procedures in place to prevent outbreaks.

In the meantime, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado introduced a bill that would require all VA medical facilities in the U.S. to report any cases of infectious disease to their related state health departments. Currently non-federal hospitals are required to do just that, but VA facilities are exempt.

Murphy said he is currently reviewing that bill, which is similar to a Senate bill from Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey that would also require facilities to report to county health departments.

Following the findings of the inspector general’s report, a criminal investigation is being conducted of the VA Pittsburgh Health System.

“The main thing we want is to make sure VA hospitals are really doing the best possible thing to prevent infectious disease from occurring within these hospital settings,” Murphy said. “At this point we await the results of the inspector general’s criminal investigation to see what else has taken place there, because now that we know what the problems are, we want to know who was behind the problems, and that still has to be corrected.”