WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs hospitals would be required to immediately report outbreaks of infectious diseases to state public health officials under legislation the House approved Monday night.
The language was authored by Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and included in the G.I. Bill Tuition Fairness Act that passed on a rare unanimous vote of 390 to 0. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Six veterans died of Legionnaires disease in August 2012 after breathing mists of water at a VA hospital in Pittsburgh, Penn.
A subsequent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that officials responsible for the laboratory at the 150-bed acute care hospital failed to report positive test results of the disease for two days.
“It’s a serious problem,” Coffman said of the failed notification process.
The Marine combat veteran also told The Colorado Observer after the vote that officials with the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System had “covered up” knowledge of the outbreak of the disease.
A Veterans Affairs spokeswoman offered condolences to the families of the veterans and said hospitals have improved health standards and requirements.
“The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s water safety regimen is now one of the most rigorous in the health care industry,” the spokeswoman said.
“We are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to minimize the risk of Legionella and create the safest environment possible for our nation’s Veterans to heal,” the spokeswoman said.
Legionnaires Disease is most likely to affect smokers and the elderly, according to Lauri Hicks, a CDC medical officer who testified in front of Coffman’s Veterans Affairs subcommittee Feb. 5, 2013. It is fatal in 5 to 15 percent of cases.