A day after an Allegheny County family vowed legal action against the VA, Rep. Tim Murphy pressed another federal agency to release details it has about the fatal Legionnaires’ outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to disclose how it’s advising the VA to strengthen safety. He also wants to know whether a “broader public-health concern” faces the region and whether the VA adequately maintained a water-treatment system at its Oakland hospital, Murphy wrote Tuesday to the CDC director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden.
“My efforts are on behalf of the southwestern Pennsylvania veterans, families and hospital workers to ensure public health is protected” and prevent any repeat problems, Murphy said in a written statement.
It’s “a positive step” that the Oakland VA followed recent CDC recommendations, but “further review is needed for long-term strategies to be effectively deployed,” Murphy said.
The CDC will respond to Murphy as soon as possible and an extensive report is forthcoming, spokesman Tom Skinner said. But he said it’s up to the VA to share the recommendations with the news media.
A VA spokesman in Washington said on Tuesday that his department is providing information to the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation and will remain in touch with those representatives.
Spokesman David Cowgill said earlier the system “is committed to implementing any additional recommendations made by our partners from the CDC in the future.” He did not say what the CDC recommended nor promise to release future recommendations. In consultation with the CDC, the VA cleaned its potable water systems and restricted tap-water use in late November.
VA officials sought the CDC’s help in late October to review a Legionnaires’ outbreak, according to the CDC. The VA first told the public Nov. 16 it had four Legionnaires’ cases linked to its Oakland hospital on University Drive.
It reported a fifth case on Nov. 22. A man thought to be the fifth Legionnaires’ case, William E. Nicklas, 87, of Hampton died Nov. 23 at the Oakland VA, his family said Monday.
The Nicklas family is planning legal action to force an explanation of conditions at the hospital and to prevent more deaths, family attorney Harry S. Cohen said.
County health officials confirmed a Legionnaires’ patient died in the VA system. Four patients recovered in the outbreak, which led the Oakland and H.J. Heinz VA facilities to adopt new water-treatment systems. Officials are testing whether four sickened workers contracted the disease. Both hospitals had Legionella bacteria in their tap water.
Other lawmakers put pressure on the VA, with Sen. Bob Casey Jr. sending a dozen questions last week to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Casey expects a response this week, spokesman John Rizzo said. Rizzo said the senator was “not satisfied with how the VA handled the initial outreach to the community.”
The American Federation of Government Employees jumped into the issue Tuesday. The union, which represents several hundred workers at the Oakland VA, alleged “missteps and cover-up” and wants an “investigation from the highest levels,” according to a statement.
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