Pittsburgh VA hospital suspected in Legionnaires’ disease deaths

The Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Hospital in Oakland, Pennsylvania, has recently come under fire for conditions that some say led to the death of five veterans between June 2011 and November 2012. Members of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs are investigating claims that the veterans died of Legionnaires’ disease, a pneumonia-like illness that most seriously afflicts elderly patients and those with compromised immune systems. Investigators suspect the bacteria that cause the disease may have been present in the hospital’s water supply.

The House committee held a hearing this week and reviewed a report on the outbreak from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The hearing included testimony from officials at the Pittsburgh VA hospital, water treatment experts and two former VA hospital researchers. The researchers left over disputes about the Pittsburgh hospital’s management. They both believe that poor maintenance of the facility’s water treatment system, installed in 1993, is to blame for the outbreak.

Four of the deaths were announced last November by VA hospital officials. They admitted that the patients had died of Legionnaires’ disease and that the hospital had been trying to stop the spread of the Legionella bacteria in its water supply. A fifth patient died a week later. There could be additional victims as well, though VA officials may be reluctant to attribute further deaths to the outbreak at the hospital.

Contracting a fatal disease at a hospital dedicated to serving veterans seems a particularly cruel fate considering the sacrifices these men have made. And until investigators learn exactly where the bacteria came from and whether it’s still present in the water system, there exists a risk that more patients will contract the disease. Patients and their families must be vigilant when it comes to holding the hospital responsible — for preventing further spread of the disease and taking responsibility for the deaths that have already occurred. Those who have been affected by the outbreak may want to contact an attorney who can help them pursue compensation for any resulting medical expenses and other damages.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “CDC report cites 5 Legionnaire’ deaths in Pittsburgh region,” Sean D. Hamill, Feb. 5, 2013