Congressional Committee Holds Oversight Hearing on Pittsburgh Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

February 5, 2013
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14) participated in a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease at the VA’s Pittsburgh facilities.  
“The hearing this morning was a good start, but frankly it raised more questions than it answered,”
Congressman Doyle said.  “Witnesses made serious allegations and discussed concerns that the VA needs to address promptly.”

“This was a lethal outbreak of a preventable and treatable disease, and that’s simply not acceptable,”
Congressman Doyle observed. “Our veterans and VA staff deserve better than that.  It’s very troubling that the VA has been accused of gross negligence, and if that’s the case, the responsible parties need to be held accountable. If they’re not true, VA needs to provide a comprehensive response disproving these allegations.”

“This issue is far from over,”
Congressman Doyle added. “We’re going to stay on top of this until all the facts are clear and the problems have been fixed – and this is only the beginning of this process.  I am confident that the Veterans Affairs Committee will follow up and demand answers from the VA.  The VA Inspector General is looking into the outbreak as well, and his report is due out in March.  

“This incident has national implications as well.  I hope that, at the very least, this tragic incident leads to policy changes that prevent future outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease.
It seems clear to me that the protocols for addressing the risk posed by the Legionella bacterium need to be revised.”

Legionnaires Disease is caused by inhaling water vapor or mist containing Legionella bacteria – often in showers or hot tubs.  Thousands of Americans a year contract Legionnaires Disease, and a small number of people die from it – usually individuals who are already in ill health.  Some of the most common sources of Legionnaires Disease are water systems in hotels or hospitals.  Most such facilities have water treatment equipment to kill Legionella bacteria.  

On November 16, 2012, the Pittsburgh VA announced that an outbreak of Legionnaires Disease had taken place at its University Drive facility in Pittsburgh, infecting four patients.  The VA subsequently announced that a fifth patient had contracted the disease – and that one of the five had died.  

Congressmen Doyle and Murphy concluded that an investigation by an independent objective entity was needed to determine what happened and what should be done to prevent outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease at VA facilities.  They contacted the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and requested that the Committee look into the outbreak. Congressman Murphy and Senator Casey requested the Inspector General at the Department of Veterans Affairs investigate the outbreak as well.

Today’s hearing included witnesses from the VA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), private sector contractors involved in testing and maintaining the VA’s water systems, and outside experts on Legionnaires’ Disease.  A list of the witnesses and their testimony, as well as Members’ opening statements, and a video of the hearing, can be found on the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s web site.