Pa. Congressional delegation expresses concern over VA outbreak
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Three members of Pennsylvania's bipartisan congressional delegation added their voices Wednesday to the list of officials concerned with the ongoing investigation into the Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Pittsburgh Veteran's Affairs buildings.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, all said they have been closely monitoring the events of the last 2 1/2 weeks in the hope that the cause of the outbreak can be found.
Since Nov. 16, when the Pittsburgh VA first revealed that four people had contracted and recovered from Legionnaires' disease that originated at its University Drive hospital in Oakland, the scope of the outbreak and its investigation has grown.
First the VA said on Nov. 22 that it had a fifth case tied to the hospital. Then Nov. 30, it told Allegheny County Health Department officials that that fifth patient died. Two families later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that family members died after contracting Legionnaires' following stays at the University Drive hospital. And one of those patients had also been staying at the VA's H.J. Heinz nursing home near Aspinwall, which now may also be tied to the outbreak.
"I'm trying to find out if the VA took appropriate action," said Mr. Murphy, who said he spoke Tuesday with Thomas Frieden, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the outbreak for the VA. "He said the CDC is getting full cooperation from the VA."
In January, Mr. Murphy will take over the chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He believes the subcommittee would have jurisdiction over the issue because part of its responsibilities includes public health.
Mr. Doyle said he expects the VA and CDC's investigation also will examine the claims from two former researchers at the Pittsburgh VA, Janet Stout and Victor Yu.
Dr. Yu and Dr. Stout -- prominent Legionnaires' experts who left the VA in 2006 and 2007, respectively, after a dispute with management -- have alleged that they believe the outbreak was due to the VA's mismanagement of the water treatment system they first had installed there in 1993. The VA has said the system -- known as a copper-silver ionization system -- failed and it was replacing it with a chlorination system favored by the CDC.
Mr. Toomey's office said Wednesday that he sent a letter Tuesday to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, expressing his concern and asking him to outline the steps the department is taking to address the outbreak. He joins his Democratic colleague in the Senate, Bob Casey, who sent a similar letter to Mr. Shinseki last week.
"The continued problems at this facility and at the VA's H.J. Heinz campus are of great concern to Pennsylvania families who have loved ones receiving care at these facilities," Mr. Toomey wrote, in part.
Mr. Casey said in a press release that he finally spoke with Mr. Shinseki on Wednesday.
"Secretary Shinseki committed to getting to the bottom of what happened and improving communication with the public about the situation and the VA's efforts," Mr. Casey's office wrote.
First Published December 6, 2012 12:00 am