U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has introduced a Senate bill to require VA health system medical facilities nationwide to report confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease and other notifiable infectious diseases, to federal, state and local health agencies as other hospitals currently do.
Mr. Casey introduced Senate Bill 875 on Tuesday in the aftermath of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Healthcare System that sickened 22 patients and killed at least five of them in 2011 and 2012.
He said closing dangerous gaps in reporting requirements for the VA health system entails a clearer, more rigorous notification system.
"We want it to be clear -- a ready-made list of infectious diseases to be used as a guide," Mr. Casey said in a Tuesday teleconference. "It is important to have a uniform system of notification as it relates to the VA. We want accountability so when actions occur, it is clear what should be done, and we can measure those actions against the requirements of the bill."
If such an outbreak occurs in the future, Mr. Casey said, requirements in the bill produce "clear lines of responsibility."
"I do think one of the problems here was the inability to have a rigorous notification system in place and failure to have in place a structured communication system" in the Pittsburgh VA health system, where the Legionella bacterium existed in the plumbing.
In an email response to Mr. Casey's announcement, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said, "VA Pittsburgh health system has taken appropriate steps, and continues to take action based on expert reviews, to control Legionella and ensure the safety and protection of veterans," while noting communication with Congress and others to deal with the issue.
Based on the bill, a VA facility also would be required to report confirmed cases of notifiable infectious diseases to the federal Veterans Affairs offices in Washington, D.C., along with a large network of VA officials, including those within the particular VA medical center where the infection occurred.
The VA also would be required to notify the patient, next of kin and the patient's primary care provider about the infection.
The CDC has established a list of diseases that hospitals must notify health agencies whenever they have a confirmed case.
A similar U.S. House bill that Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., introduced April 29 would require all VA medical facilities nationwide to report patients' cases of infectious diseases to state health departments where they're located, a requirement by which non-federal hospitals have to abide, but from which VA facilities currently are exempt.
"If we are to be worthy of [veterans'] valor and pay tribute to them, we better get their health care to a level of quality that gives them and their families peace of mind and keeps our promise to them," Mr. Casey said. "That is what this is all about."
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578.