Reporting Mary Robb Jackson
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In May of last year the opening of the VA hospital’s new medical building in Oakland was a tonic after all the bad publicity because of the Legionella bacteria outbreak at veterans’ facilities here.
At least five veterans died, and 16 others contracted Legionnaire’s disease between February of 2011 and November of 2012.
Now, there is word that within the past couple of weeks the Legionella bacteria turned up in routine testing of the water supply, this time at the new building complex in Oakland.
The water system had to be shut down for two to three days.
The waterborne bacteria were detected in the 78-bed secure psychiatric unit, bottled water was used and some patient’s admissions were delayed because of the problem.
Allegedly, there was no notification given outside the hospital.
“It concerns me from the standpoint because I think the VA should know by now I’m watching very carefully,” said Congressman Tim Murphy who put a call into the VA. “I have not heard from them. Apparently, they have not sent out a clear statement of what is happening, and so that ambiguity creates anxiety among people.”
A VA spokesperson confirmed the positive test for Legionella, but denies that the outbreak is new.
A statement from the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System adds that “VA Pittsburgh has implemented one of the most aggressive environmental surveillance and remediation processes in the industry since last November.”
They declined interviews.
No one appears to have contracted the disease this time. Legionella bacteria lives in most water pipes, but in a hospital setting patients with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable.
Murphy believes the VA communications process needs to be improved, and if they “mess up, fess up.”
“Here’s what we detected. Here’s the action we’re taking. Here’s how we’re correcting it,” said Murphy.
At present, according to the Allegheny County Health Department, cases of Legionnaire’s disease are reportable but positive tests for the Legionella bacteria are not.