VA employees who fail to notify state, local health officials of Legionnaires’ would face suspension

Pittsburgh VA officials “could have and probably should have” shared information more readily with public health agencies during the outbreak, acting state Secretary of Health Michael Wolf told the Tribune-Review. A Trib investigation published in March revealed VA hospitals, as federal facilities, fall outside state health rules that require other hospitals to report cases of infectious diseases. Although many VA facilities comply voluntarily, they are currently under no legal liability to do so.

“Changes are needed to ensure there is better notification in the future and that steps are being taken to ensure our veterans have access to high-quality health care,” Casey said in March, when he announced plans to begin drafting the legislation and sought input from area health officials.

Casey's formal bill, introduced Tuesday, lists specific requirements that VA facilities would need to meet. He said the legislation is intended to “help ensure an outbreak like this never goes unreported again.”

Regional VA directors would be required to alert state and county health departments to confirmed cases of CDC-listed notifiable infectious diseases within 24 hours of diagnoses. In each case, the CDC, national VA officials, the patient's primary-care provider and next-of-kin and VA workers in the affected hospital also would need to be notified.

Additionally, VA regional offices would have to maintain a history of reported infectious diseases for at least 10 years, which the VA Office of Inspector General would have to include in annual compliance reports submitted to Congress. The inspector general's office would investigate any compliance failures under the proposed bill.

Workers found responsible would be suspended, and the VA secretary could order additional discipline, including termination, according to the legislation.

A key difference between Casey's measure and a similar bill introduced recently in the House include requirements in the Senate bill that the VA notify county or local health officials as well as the state.

Disease experts and local health officials have generally applauded the bill, saying it will help public health agencies to identify and stop disease outbreaks more quickly and effectively. Casey will be speaking with reporters Tuesday afternoon to explain the legislation.

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