Congressman Mike Doyle

Representing the 18 District of Pennsylvania

Doyle, Murphy Introduce Bill to Require VA Medical Centers to Report Infectious Disease Outbreaks

May 23, 2013
Press Release

Washington DC - Today U.S. Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA18) and Mike Doyle (D-PA14) introduced legislation that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health System (VAHS) to report infectious disease outbreaks to the appropriate public health officials.

“The VA treats a lot of sick, older Americans – just the kind of population that’s vulnerable to infectious diseases,” said Representative Doyle. “It seems clear to me that the VA has to do a better job of keeping the public and agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed when they have an outbreak.” 

“Our goal is to minimize the risk and spread of infectious diseases to patients and staff at VA’s healthcare system so tragic events like the Legionnaires’ outbreak never occur again for lack of information,” said Representative Murphy. “You can't manage what you don't measure, which is why our bill establishes a strong framework for VA hospitals to collect and share life-saving information with the CDC and health departments.” 

Last fall, the VA healthcare system in Pittsburgh (VAPHS) announced that there had been an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at one of its facilities. Subsequently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that a number of VAPHS patients had come down with Legionnaires’ disease and that five had died of it.

Investigations by the VA Inspector General’s Office and the House Veterans Affairs Committee revealed that the Pittsburgh VA healthcare system had detected the presence of the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease but failed to respond to the problem in a coordinated, comprehensive, and effective fashion for over a year – putting many people at risk. One of the lessons learned from this incident is that the reporting requirements for VA healthcare facilities should be clarified and strengthened to ensure that information about the presence of infectious diseases gets to the relevant authorities in a timely fashion.

Congressmen Doyle and Murphy worked with Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) to draft legislation that would require VA facilities to report infectious diseases more quickly. Specifically, the Veterans Administration Disease Reporting and Oversight Act, would:

 

  • Require the Undersecretary for Health to put out a directive creating a process for communication between the Pathology Team, the Infection Prevention Team, the Facilities Management Team and any other key group within each VAHS for handling a suspected case. The Director of each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) would be required to ensure every member of these teams is briefed on these rules.

  • Require the VISN Director to report a confirmed case of a notifiable infectious disease within 24 hours. If a state has a more stringent guideline for a particular disease, the VISN must follow that requirement

  • The incident must be reported to the following agencies:

  •          The Centers for Disease Control;

  •          The State and/or County Health Department (in the state and county in which the affected hospital is located and where the individual is a resident);

  •          The Veterans Administration in Washington, DC;

  •          The patients primary care provider

  •          The impacted patient and next of kin;

  •          All employees at the affected VA Health System;

  • Require the VISN to confirm within 24 hours that each agency has acknowledged that each of the above agencies is aware of the situation.

  • Require the VISN to implement an action plan in a confirmed case of probable or definite hospital acquired case, within no more than seven days. When applicable, the plan will detail how the VAHS will manage and control the potential spread of the disease whether community or hospital acquired.  The plan will also identify the role of partnering agencies in the process. 

  • Require the VISN to maintain a history of its reports for notifiable diseases for no less than ten years. 

  • Require the VA Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG) to submit annual reports to Congress on VA compliance with these requirements.

  • Require the VAOIG to investigate any failure to comply with the reporting requirements and should it be found there was a failure to comply; the non-compliant employee(s) can be suspended per existing processes. The Secretary is also authorized to take other disciplinary action as they deemed appropriate. 

 

Senator Casey introduced the Veterans Administration Disease Reporting and Oversight Act in the Senate on May 7. Representatives Doyle and Murphy introduced it in the House today.

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