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Legionnaires' Hearing Will Explore Regulation, Bonuses, Prevention

The U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs Monday will hold its second hearing on the 2011 Legionnaires' disease outbreak. The outbreak killed at least five patients and sickened 21 at Pittsburgh’s Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The hearing will take place in the Allegheny County Courthouse downtown and will be attended by committee members, other members of Congress, VA officials and relatives of those killed from Legionnaires'. 

The committee first met on the outbreak in February. Since then the VA Office of Inspector General released its report saying the VA Pittsburgh Health System didn’t regularly flush out its water systems, which could have lead to the Legionella bacteria spawning and performed inadequate maintenance of its copper silver ion system used to disinfect water.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) said the purpose of the hearing is to gauge what the VA has done to prevent future outbreaks.

He said he supports efforts like the Infectious Disease Reporting Act to better regulate the VA. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-CO-6), the bill would require VA hospitals to notify the state when they have an infectious disease breakout.

“We recognize that hospital acquired infections across the country lead to a lot of deaths, a lot of hospitalizations, and a lot of cost over the years,” Murphy said. “But we wanted to make sure the VA hospital is also reporting those. Now the idea is not just something to create more paperwork but what you don’t measure, you do not manage.”

Murphy said he’d also like to see the VA implement its own regulations too.

“We believe there should be standard reporting procedures and standard procedures that are modernized with regard to preventing Legionella," Murphy said. "This is something that lives in the pipes, in water systems, all over the place. But hospitals have to take special precautions, especially in transplant units where you have many patients taking immunosuppressant drugs, meaning their own immune system can’t fight off infections.”

Murphy said he also plans to ask VA officials about a letter he sent to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shineski in August asking him to rescind more then $100,000 in bonuses given to VA officials in the wake of the outbreak. He said he hasn’t received a response. 

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