Bills in U.S. House would require VA to report disease outbreaks
May 24--Two local congressmen have introduced a U.S. House bill identical to the bill U.S. Sen. Bob Casey introduced May 7 in the Senate to require Veterans Administration medical centers to report infectious disease outbreaks to the appropriate public health officials.
The bills come in the wake of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System that sickened 22 patients and killed at least five of them in 2011 and 2012. Both bills are designed to close dangerous gaps in reporting requirements for the VA health system by requiring a clearer, more rigorous notification system to federal, state and local health agencies, as other hospitals are required to do.
U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, introduced the Veterans Administration Disease Reporting and Oversight Act on Thursday "so tragic events like the Legionnaires' outbreak never occur again for lack of information."
"The VA treats a lot of sick, older Americans -- just the kind of population that's vulnerable to infectious disease," Mr. Doyle said in a statement about the bill he and Mr. Murphy released jointly. "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."
Mr. Murphy said the goal is to minimize the risk and spread of infectious disease to patients and staff at VA medical facilities. "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," he said.
An investigation by the VA inspector general's office and the House Veterans Affairs Committee revealed that the Pittsburgh VA had detected the presence of legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires' disease, but failed to respond to the problem in coordinated, comprehensive and effective fashion for more than a year, putting many people at risk, the joint statement says.
"One of the lessons learned from this incident is that the reporting requirements for VA health care 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."
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Doyle said they worked with Mr. Casey to fashion identical bills in a bipartisan effort to expedite congressional passage of the bill and get it to President Barack Obama's desk.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., also introduced his own House bill April 29 to require VA health facilities to report cases of infectious disease to health agencies.
David Templeton: email@example.com.
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