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VA Official Testifies Before Congress on PA Legionnaires’ Outbreak

Posted on September 10, 2013
by Wendy Stackhouse
Allegheny County Courthouse
Allegheny County Courthouse

As of now, there have been 22 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ Disease at the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s University Drive Hospital and 6 deaths. There had been 21 cases and 5 deaths at the time of our last update.

On Monday, September 9, 2013, Veterans Administration Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel testified before a congressional hearing held to discuss the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease which has been going on for almost 2 years. Dr. Petzel’s agenda may have been more defensive than clarifying, however.

Rather than testifying to concrete improvements in bacteria control at the University Drive Hospital itself, Dr. Petzel testified that the Veterans Administration was doing “all it could to make changes in response to problems at VA medical centers across the country.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 10, 2013.

Dr. Petzel also testified that there will be new national policies to prevent Legionnaires outbreaks in the future, but there doesn’t seem to have been any testimony related to who was responsible for this one and what is specifically being done about University Drive. Dr. Petzel claimed that there is a countywide Legionnaires’ epidemic and so this outbreak cannot be blamed on the hospital or its personnel.

A report by the US VA’s Office of the Inspector General had already blamed “maintenance, testing and communications problems by employees” for the outbreak and made recommendations for improvement of facility maintenance to prevent future problems.

Testimony was offered that any employees responsible for mistakes leading to the outbreak of Legionnaires’ will be disciplined, but Dr. Petzel claimed that an ongoing investigation prevented that disciplinary action from having already taken place.

No one wants to take responsibility for the deaths of these Veterans, but deaths from a completely preventable disease while in a facility which exists to improve veterans’ health is not acceptable. We hope that the situation becomes clear, that the people who should be held responsible for the neglect or poor maintenance of this hospital’s systems are brought to justice, and that the necessary improvements have already been made so that there will be no further cases of Legionnaires’ at University Drive.

Legionella bacteria are everywhere and spread through water systems, infecting victims through water vapor from pools, hot tubs, showers and fountains. If these water systems are not properly maintained, not only can legionella spread, it WILL. And it can be deadly. Facilities which house large numbers of people are always at risk because of the size and complexity of their water systems. It is essential that hospitals, hotels, cruise ships and other large facilities be vigilant about preventing the growth of legionella bacteria at all times. AirTek provides the cleaning and maintenance services required to prevent spread of this deadly bacteria. Contact us if we can help you keep your facility clean and safe.

Legionnaires’ Disease is completely preventable with proper maintenance of water and ventilation systems. That these hospital administrators ignored the presence of a deadly bacterium is absolutely tragic.

Wendy Stackhouse has been the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our parent company, Alliance Environmental Group, which offers residential and commercial cleaning, pest control, demolition, structural pasteurization and many other environmental services, since October of 2011. Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter for more updates on indoor air challenges!

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