Bipartisan legislation approved making it illegal for hospitals to conceal disease outbreaks. This came about as a result of the fatal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System that caused five patients to die and 16 non-fatal Legionnaires’ disease cases.
The federal government publicly agreed yesterday that at least one of the Legionnaires’ disease cases involving a World War II veteran was caused as a result of government negligence at the VA University Drive hospital site.
“We owe it to [veterans] and their families to make sure that at least some good comes from this tragic incident,” said Rep. Mike Doyle.
A major part of the problem involved reporting delays. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals report disease cases to the state and local health departments on a voluntary basis. Local VA officials delayed notifying the Pennsylvania Department of Health in approximately one-third of the outbreak-associated Legionnaires’ disease cases.
Reporting delays are significant because they prevent public health efforts, such as outbreak containment. Pennsylvania, along with many other states, actually requires infectious diseases to be reported with one day of diagnosis, but in the case of the local VA, there were no penalties for the delay.