6/15/2013 Pittsburgh Tribune
By Luis Fábregas, Adam Smeltz and Mike Wereschagin
Legionella bacteria flourished in the water lines in rooms housing the most vulnerable patients at the VA Pittsburgh hospital in Oakland at least five years before officials disclosed a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in November 2012, a Tribune-Review investigation has found.
VA workers found potentially deadly Legionella in at least 30 percent of faucets, shower heads and public water fountains tested at the University Drive hospital on seven occasions between September 2007 and November 2011, according to documents obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act. The 30 percent threshhold is supposed to automatically trigger a local action plan under Department of Veterans Affairs rules.
The bug was so rampant that a report dated Sept. 21, 2007, showed Legionella in 17 of 19 samples taken from surgical and medical intensive-care units at the VA hospital in Oakland. The positive results gave rise to a years-long battle with the bacteria that by 2010 appeared out of control: 75 percent of ICU rooms tested in July that year had Legionella.
“Whenever you have numerous sites within a facility growing Legionella, there is a direct risk to patients,” said Dr. Joseph S. Cervia, a Legionnaires’ expert and clinical professor of medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y….
6/15/2013 Pittsburgh Tribune
By Mike Wereschagin Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:26 p.m.
Pittsburgh area found far more Legionella bacteria than counterparts throughout the region, according to test samples from as far back as 2006 reviewed by the Tribune-Review.
More than 160 samples tested by the VA Pittsburgh hospitals since 2007 contained the potentially deadly bacteria, including the University Drive hospital in Oakland, the H.J. Heinz campus in O’Hara and the Highland Drive facility, which is being phased out. About 100 positive samples were at Oakland, about 40 at Highland Drive and about 20 at O’Hara.
None of the five other hospitals in the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 4 region that supplied records had more than nine positive samples, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Trib requested Legionella test results from the VA Pittsburgh’s three facilities and the nine other medical centers in VISN4. Headquartered in Pittsburgh and headed by director Michael Moreland, the region includes most of Pennsylvania and parts or all of five neighboring states. Six hospitals, including Pittsburgh, provided the records…
Adam Smeltz, Luis Fábregas, and Mike Wereschagin have done an outstanding job of investigating the Legionnaire’s outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA, and the Pittsburgh VA’ s leadership’s less than forthright handling of this tragedy. While veterans are sometimes critical of the press and are often upset by some of the examples that a “free press” brings to our doors each day, the investigative journalism that the Pittsburgh Tribune has done into this cover up, is exactly what our forefathers were thinking about when they made “freedom of the press” part of the constitution.
This series has shown that our government, after more than two centuries, will not always be honest with us. I say this not as someone who is paranoid that there is a giant conspiracy within our government, but but as someone who recognizes that any part of the government may be taken over by a bureaucrat, who has unfortunately tuned into WIFM, what’s in it for me, instead of what in it for the public. When these misguided bureaucrats place their interests, ahead of their public responsibilities it is highly unlikely that we can rely on the government to disclose its malfeasance to us.
In the case at hand the VISN 4 Director and his staff have little to fear from the Legionella in the water, because they don’t drink it. After closing down the special pathogens laboratory, when he was the Director of the Pittsburgh VA, Mr. Moreland became Director of VISN 4. He promptly moved the VISN 4 headquarters off campus to the DelMonte Center, which was leased at a cost that was 40% above similar class A office space in Pittsburgh. In a city that has two VA campuses, that have undergone extensive reconstruction, one wonders why, the VISN 4 staff could not find space at one of these locations in a government owned building, that would be less expensive than renting at the DelMonte Center? While the VISN 4 staff can not see either of the Pittsburgh are VA campuses from the DelMonte Center, perhaps their efficiency is enhanced by the excellent views of both Pittsburgh Stadiums and the proximity to fine dining and drinking establishments? Or maybe they moved so they wouldn’t have to drink the water? We wouldn’t even think to ask these things without the Pittsburgh Tribune’s investigation, which is why we need a free press, and that is why veterans, particularly those veterans in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New Jersey who are in VISN 4 should be grateful, that in an age when most news “reporting” consists of repacking new releases, Adam Smeltz, Luis Fábregas, and Mike Wereschagin have spent almost a year doing real investigative journalism and written dozens of pieces on this. When we enlisted, or were commissioned, we took an oath that required us to uphold the constitution, seeing this series should remind us how important freedom of the press was, is and will always be.
W. Robb Graham