Labor activists at Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Hospital Sound Alarm on Elevated Legionella Levels
WASHINGTON— The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take a deeper look at reports of elevated levels of Legionella at the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in Illinois. In a Feb. 28 letter to Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels, the union urges the agency to inspect reports of Legionella and “ensure that a process exists for regular testing, and that appropriate actions for remediation take place.”
Union activists at AFGE Veterans Affairs (VA) Local 781 notified the AFGE national office of its concerns that unsafe levels of the bacteria may be present at the hospital. The letter to OSHA explains that patients and staff can be at risk if the proper precautions aren’t taken and that the VA’s track record on handling Legionella has been poor in recent years. The VA came under heavy scrutiny for its mismanagement of the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA that has been linked to death of five veterans.
“AFGE wants proper testing and effective remediation for the safety of our members and the veterans we serve,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “If the VA is to stand by its delivery of world-class care, it must be diligent in maintaining its facilities and protecting those who are treated and work in its hospitals and other sites.”
An August 2013 report by the VA’s Office of Inspector General found that many VA facilities tested positive for Legionella and that current methods of hyper-chlorination and super heating were not sustainable in treating the water. A number of concerns are outlined in the letter to OSHA including possible long-term health concerns for patients and staff who are exposed to hyper-chlorinated water, the VA’s questionable testing methods that do not adequately identify the strain of Legionella present, and the agency’s failure to follow guidelines delineated by its own inspector general.
“We cannot afford for the VA to drag its feet when it comes to patient care,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “The concerns that our members have brought to light must be addressed swiftly. OSHA’s immediate involvement will ensure that the proper testing is done and the water is safe for our patients and staff.”
The union’s letter asks for OSHA’s intervention on this matter and acknowledges its shared concern for a healthy workplace and the safety of America’s veterans treated by dedicated public servants at VA facilities.
A link to the letter can be found here.