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Witness Testimony of Dr. Janet Stout, Director, Special Pathogens Laboratory

I am testifying today before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation to assist in gathering information about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that occurred at the VISN 4 Veterans Health Administration facility at University Drive, Pittsburgh, PA. The affected veterans and their families deserve full disclosure from the administrators at the University Drive and Heinz facilities in Pittsburgh.

I have been invited to testify today as a subject matter expert on Legionnaires’ disease.  My 30+ years of research in the field of Legionnaires’ disease provides me with specialized knowledge about Legionella bacteria, the methods used to control it in hospital water systems and the methods used to investigate possible cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.

I also have intimate knowledge of the procedures and practices that were established at the Pittsburgh VA facilities in response to previous outbreaks.  I was among the group of scientists that were funded by VA Central Office to investigate and study the occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pittsburgh VA – the VA facility that is the subject of this investigation.  I started my studies with the group in 1980, the year after the first cases of Legionnaires’ disease were diagnosed at the Pittsburgh VA.  I became part of the VA Special Pathogens Laboratory, which was created to study Legionnaires’ disease and ultimately became a Legionella special reference laboratory.

Over 100 cases of hospital acquired Legionnaires’ disease were diagnosed at the Pittsburgh VA in the first years of the outbreak. These veterans had come to the VA for routine procedures, but were infected with Legionella bacteria from the hospital water system and developed a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. The mortality rate for hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease can be as high as 30-40%.

We were the first to definitively demonstrate the link between Legionnaires’ disease and the presence of Legionella in hospital water systems This seminal discovery in 1982 shifted the focus from cooling towers to water distributions systems as the primary source for Legionnaires’ disease.

I participated in many studies on Legionnaires’ disease which were conducted in collaboration and under the direction of Dr. Victor Yu, Chief of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at the Pittsburgh VA.  These studies resulted in seminal findings on identification of the source of the bacteria, the treatment of the disease and prevention of the disease through disinfection of the hospital hot water system. 

Through these efforts, Legionnaires’ disease was controlled at the Pittsburgh VA and our findings translated into hundreds of peer-reviewed papers which helped countless other healthcare and non-healthcare facilities prevent Legionnaires’ disease.

My work at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center from the early 1980’s through 2007 provided me with specific relevant information of the processes and procedure we put in place at the Pittsburgh VA to prevent hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.  This includes the methods and schedule for monitoring (testing) Legionella and copper and silver ions, maintenance of the ionization system, diagnostic and microbiological methods used for detecting Legionnaires’ disease in patients at the Pittsburgh VA, and procedures used to investigate possible cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.

In 1981, while at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center, I was part of the team that first demonstrated the link between the presence of Legionella bacteria in hospital water systems and the occurrence of hospital-acquired Legionnaires' disease. This seminal discovery was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1982.  We went on to develop the prevention strategy for hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease which now serves as the model for national guidelines.

We also developed the diagnostic and microbiological approaches and methods used for detecting Legionnaires’ disease in patients at the Pittsburgh VA, and the procedures used to investigate possible cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.

QUALIFICATIONS (CV Attached)

I am a microbiologist trained in clinical and environmental microbiology. I received a BS in Biology from Clarion State College, Clarion, Pennsylvania; and a Masters and PhD degree in Microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.  I am the Director of the Special Pathogens Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA and concurrently a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering University of Pittsburgh. 

My research and academic studies on Legionella–the bacteria the causes Legionnaires’ disease have received international recognition. As an invited speaker to international and national scientific and professional organizations, including the International Symposium on Legionella and Legionnaires ’ disease, I lecture worldwide on the subject of Legionnaires’ disease.  I serve as a subject matter expert in legal cases dealing with Legionnaires’ disease, and am a member of national societies such as the American Society for Microbiology, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control, the Cooling Technology Institute, and the America Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), in which I a member of the ASHRAE Legionella Standards and guideline committees. My expertise includes disinfection and control strategies for the prevention of Legionnaires’ disease and other waterborne pathogens. 

My research on Legionnaires’ disease in water systems of homes, buildings, hospitals, hotels and utility water systems has been reported in over 100 articles published in medical and scientific peer-reviewed journals. I co-authored the “Legionella” chapter published in Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control and the Manual of Clinical Microbiology. Currently, I serve as a reviewer on the editorial board of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the International Journal of Environmental Health, the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, and Water Research.

OUTBREAK OF HOSPITAL- ACQUIRED LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE AT THE PITTSBURGH VETERANS HEALTHCARE SYSTEM UNIVERSITY DRIVE (VAHS-UD)

The focus of this investigation should be:

1.         The failure of the Pittsburgh VA to recognize they had an outbreak and take preventive actions. We now know there were 16 cases and 5 deaths. The delay in recognizing the outbreak may have contributed to additional cases and deaths.

2.         The failure of the VA lab to detect Legionella in the water system of the VA University Drive.  This likely contributed to the delay in detecting the outbreak. This failure was due to lack of knowledge and experience - a problem brought to the attention of the VA Inspector General in 2009.

3.         Failure of the VA to operate and manage the copper-silver ionization disinfection system.

4.         Failure to communicate with physicians, staff, patients and families regarding the increase in cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.  The delay in alerting physicians may have contributed to additional morbidity and mortality.

Legionnaires’ disease Reported: On November 16, 2012, the Pittsburgh VAHS-UD reported that it had an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease and would ultimately report that 5 cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease had been diagnosed at the University Drive facility.  One of these five patients died.  In a latter report the VA disclosed that 16 cases of Legionnaires’ disease had been diagnosed at the facility in 2011, but these cases were described as having been acquired prior to admission to the UD facility, i.e. were community acquired. 

In setting the bar for prevention of Legionnaires’ disease, the Pittsburgh VA cannot be compared to what is done at other facilities, but should be judged only by whether they followed their own policies and procedures. 

MONITORING FOR LEGIONELLA

Methods: We established the methods used to test for Legionella in water systems, including developing the culture media used to isolate Legionella.  For many years I collected the samples (swabs and water) and processed them in the Special Pathogens Laboratory.  This task was ultimately taken over by other members of the Special Pathogens Laboratory.  A minimum of 10 outlets and water from the hot water tanks were regularly tested as part of the infection control policy for Legionnaires’ disease prevention.

When a case of Legionnaires’ disease was diagnosed at the Pittsburgh VA, we tested the water outlets that the patient may have been exposed to, including the faucets and showers in their immediate environment.

Frequency of Testing:  When we began testing for Legionella in the water supply at the Pittsburgh VA in 1981, the frequency of testing was monthly. After the ionization system was installed in 1994, the frequency of testing was reduced to every other month.  This frequency was derived from studies that showed that an interruption in ion generation would result in growth of Legionella within 8- 12 weeks (Liu-98). Therefore we were uncomfortable with extending the frequency of testing beyond the every other month schedule. When I left the Pittsburgh VA in 2007, testing for Legionella was conducted every other month.

The Pittsburgh VA microbiology laboratory failed to detect Legionella during routine testing and were using out of date methods. However, the Pittsburgh VA microbiology  laboratory is listed as a CDC certified laboratory for Legionella environmental testing – successfully participating in the CDC Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE).  Obviously a CDC ELITE certification does not guarantee that a laboratory is knowledgeable and experienced enough to give reliable results. This failure was due to lack of knowledge and experience of the technicians doing the testing - a problem brought to the attention of the VA Inspector General in 2009 (case number 2000-01219-HL-0293).

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS:

1.      How was it determined that the 16 cases of Legionnaires’ disease diagnosed in were not hospital-acquired and who made this determination? 

2.      Following the diagnosis of Legionnaires’ disease in all of these patients, was Legionella testing performed on water outlets (faucets and showers) in the immediate vicinity of each of these patients – a practice that was instituted during my tenure at the Pittsburgh VA? 

3.      What was the schedule for Legionella testing at the University Drive VA?

4.      What were the results of routine Legionella testing for 2011 and 2012 at the University Drive and Heinz campuses?

5.      Were these results discussed at the Infection Control Committee and are the minutes of the committee meetings for 2011 and 2012 available for review?

6.      Why does the current (2011) Pittsburgh VA Infection Control Policy (MCM IC-001) stipulate retention of Legionella testing for a minimum of 1 year?

THE COPPER-SILVER IONIZATION SYSTEM

 

Water System Disinfection: The press release from the Pittsburgh VA stated that the disinfection system copper-silver ionization system “may not be as effective as previously thought”.  This statement seems to attempt to shift the responsibility for the outbreak to the technology.  Subsequent statements from VA Healthcare officials have also suggested that the original installation of the ionizations system in 1994 was not scientifically based. 

Heat & flush thermal disinfection was used at the Pittsburgh VA from 1981 to 1994.  The difficulty in performing heat & flush eradication procedures, as well as the propensity for Legionella to recolonize months after the procedure, led us to seek alternative disinfection approaches.  Starting the early 1980’s, the Special Pathogens Laboratory, in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Department of Environmental Engineering, formulated and devised innovative approaches to disinfection and evaluated their efficacy in hospitals.  All the methods in use today were first evaluated in controlled studies by SPL.  These included heat and flush, hyperchlorination, ultraviolet (UV) light, copper-silver, chlorine dioxide and monochloramine. 

Efficacy of Copper-silver Ionization:

This disinfection system was installed at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center in 1994 after results from laboratory studies and field studies in other hospitals showed efficacy in controlling (killing) Legionella bacteria. The first hospital to install ionization in Pittsburgh Mercy Hospital, not the Pittsburgh VA.  It was 1994 when an ionization system was installed at the Pittsburgh VA .

Compared to thermal heat & flush, ionization was found to be more effective in controlling Legionella environmental positivity and occurrence of cases.  Following the use of heat & flush (from 1981 to 1994) and after 4 years of use of copper silver ionization (from 1994 to 1998) there was a significant reduction in environmental Legionella positivity (Stout 98).   Our prospective studies showed ionization was more effective than thermal methods (Heat & Flush) in reducing both environmental positivity and the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pittsburgh VA. 

By 2005, among 48 healthcare facilities in Western Pennsylvania, 85% of hospitals with Legionella in their water systems had initiated disinfection and 29% had used a copper-silver ionization system (Squier 2005).  Nationally, by 2001 nearly 300 healthcare facilities had installed ionization.

Not relying solely on our own experience, we conducted a survey of 16 hospitals also using ionization located in cities across the U.S.  These 16 hospitals were surveyed twice, once in 1995 and again in 2000.  The results showed that ionization was also highly effective in preventing hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease in these 16 hospitals (Stout ICHE 2003). These hospitals had had ionization in place for 5 to 11 years.  This study represented the final step in a proposed 4-step evaluation process of disinfection systems.  At the time of this publication (2003), a further reduction in Legionella environmental positivity and hospital-acquired cases was seen at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center.  It was noted in this publication that zero (0) cases of hospital acquired Legionnaires’ disease occurred at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center from 1999 to 2002 (the date of the report submission). This trend continued until the cluster (outbreak) of Legionnaires’ disease which seems to have occurred at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare system (University Drive and Heinze) in 2011 and 2012.

 

MONITORING AND MAINTENANCE OF THE COPPER - SILVER SYSTEM AT THE PITTSBURGH VA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM – UNIVERSITY DRIVE

Methods and Schedule: I established the program for monitoring the ionization system at the Pittsburgh VA.  In the September 1999 Pittsburgh VA policy (Memorandum IC-1 entitled “Copper-silver Ionization System Maintenance and Monitoring”) copper testing by a kit was to be performed by engineering weekly and silver (+ copper) monitored by an analytical test laboratory monthly. Sometime later, water samples for laboratory-based testing for copper and silver ions was performed on water samples collected on the same schedule as the routine Legionella testing – every other month. This testing was performed in the Special Pathogens Laboratory by atomic absorption spectroscopy (AA). Weekly testing for copper was done by the VA plumbers (Facilities Management Service) using a hand held device colorimetric test.  In the 1999, 2007 and 2011Infection Control policies, the suggested target levels for copper was 0.2 – 0.8 mg/L (ppm) and for silver 0.02 – 0.08 mg/L (ppm). 

Maintenance of the ionization system was performed by the plumbers on a routine basis, generally monthly to quarterly depending on the condition of the electrodes. 

At the time of the 2012 outbreak, reports from the ionization manufacturers (LiquiTech and Enrich Tarn-Pure) indicated that the copper and silver monitoring, when performed, did not meet the suggested frequency for testing or the target levels. Documentation of this condition began as early as the spring of 2012.  In addition, at the request of CDC, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority performed copper and silver testing on 11 samples in mid-November and found the levels to be “low”.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

1.      Can the VA Healthcare System (University Drive and Heinz) produce the records of regular documentation of the amperage and voltage of the ionization systems in 2011 and 2012?

2.      What was the schedule for copper and silver ion monitoring, both in-house and by the external analytical laboratory in 2011 and 2012?

3.      When was that schedule established?

4.      What were the results of this testing for all tests performed in 2011 and 2012?

5.      If results were not adequate (meeting their own internal standards), what corrective actions were taken to remedy the situation?

6.      As stipulated in the Pittsburgh policy, were problems reported to Infection Control in a timely fashion?

CASES OF LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE AT THE PITTSBURGH VA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM UNIVERSITY DRIVE AND HEINZ FACILITY

  As stated above and reported in peer-reviewed publications, the use of copper-silver ionization for controlling Legionella in the water system of the Pittsburgh VA facilities had been effective in reducing/eliminating hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.  The Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System administration reported 5 confirmed cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease acquired from exposure to Legionella from the hospital water system in 2012.  They later reported that 16 cases were diagnosed in 2011, but whether they were hospital-acquired or had the disease on admission could not be determined. 

The Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System administration appears to have been aware of a problem with Legionnaires’ disease at their facilities well before the November 16th media release reporting the outbreak.  There were meetings with the Allegheny County Health Department. Strains of Legionella recovered from sick veterans seen at the University Drive facility were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for analysis before November 1st.

The CDC guidelines state that an investigation is required if 2 cases of probable hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease are identified within a 6 month period?  Did the Pittsburgh VA conduct such an investigation in 2011 after identifying 2 cases?

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

1.      What was the date of admission, date of onset of symptoms and date of diagnosis for all cases of Legionnaires’ disease diagnosed at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System (University Drive and Heinz) for 2011 and 2012?

2.      Who made the determination and what were the criteria used to conclude that the 16 cases of Legionnaires’ disease diagnosed in 2011 were acquired prior to admission in the community and were not acquired at the Pittsburgh VA University Drive or Heinz facilities?

3.      What was the result of analysis by CDC of the Legionella strains taken from VA patients and compared to the Legionella from the water systems of the University Drive VA and Heinz facility?

4.      Were these strains compared to historical strains from other cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease diagnosed at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System (University Drive and Heinz) and historical water system strains?

5.      The Special Pathogens Laboratory had a collection of thousands of Legionella strains from the patients and water at Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System dating back to 1979.  Unfortunately, administrators at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System destroyed this collection in 2006 without approval from the Research Compliance Office and on the day that I was to meet with a representative of the Research office to transfer the collection to the University of Pittsburgh. 

A congressional hearing on the matter was conducted in 2008 by the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on Science and Technology. The proceedings were published and entitled “Biobanking: How the Lack of a Coherent Policy Allowed the Veterans Administration to Destroy an Irreplaceable Collection of Legionella Samples”.  The committee found no credible rationale for the destruction of this collection and closure of the Special Pathogens Laboratory.  Incredibly no one was held accountable and there were no consequences for their actions.

I expect that this congressional hearing by the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Veterans Affairs Committee will also be published. Perhaps the title will be  “How the Lack of a Coherent Policy Allowed the Veterans Administration to Fail to Control Legionella in the Water Systems of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System (University Drive and Heinz)”.  Unfortunately, people died this time, not just microbes.

Disclosure: I am the Director of the new Special Pathogens Laboratory, Pittsburgh, PA.   We provide Legionella testing services to VA hospitals across the U.S.

When it comes to Legionnaires’ disease, the Pittsburgh VA is unique. From 1980-2006, the Pittsburgh VA was recognized as the leader in Legionella research, a model for control and prevention, and provided Legionella services for VAs nationwide. Unfortunately, in 2012, veterans have now died from a wholly preventable disease.

The Pittsburgh VA identified the cause of the outbreak on November 16 stating that the disinfection system copper-silver ionization system, “may not be as effective as previously thought.”  However, this explanation is inadequate and raises more questions regarding monitoring and maintenance required for efficacy.

As a microbiologist and former director of the Special Pathogens Laboratory housed at the Pittsburgh VA from the 1980s through 2007, I established the program for monitoring the ionization system at the Pittsburgh VA. From 1997 – 2006, no cases of hospital-acquired occurred at the facility using this same technology. It is my understanding that this trend continued until the cluster (outbreak) of Legionnaires’ disease, which seems to have occurred at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare system (University Drive and Heinz) in 2011 and 2012.

Based on 30 years of expertise in Legionnaires’ disease and intimate knowledge of Legionella control and prevention at the Pittsburgh VA, it is my suspicion that adequate Legionella testing of the water and adequate monitoring for ionization levels weren’t  conducted. At the time of the 2012 outbreak, reports from the ionization manufacturers indicated that the copper and silver monitoring, when performed, did not meet the suggested frequency for testing or target levels and that documentation of this condition began as early as the spring of 2012. 

My research at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center from the early 1980s through 2007 provides me with specific relevant information of the processes and procedures in place at the Pittsburgh VA to prevent hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease. This includes the methods and schedule for monitoring (testing) Legionella and copper and silver ions, maintenance of the ionization system, diagnostic and microbiological methods used for detecting Legionnaires’ disease in patients at the Pittsburgh VA, and procedures used to investigate possible cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.

Through these efforts, Legionnaires’ disease was essentially eliminated at the Pittsburgh VA and our findings translated into hundreds of peer-reviewed papers which helped countless other healthcare and non-healthcare facilities prevent Legionnaires’ disease. The Pittsburgh VA had the expertise that others went to for help and set the highest standard for prevention. Unfortunately, in 2006, VA officials determined that Legionnaires’ disease was no longer a priority and closed the lab suddenly ending the nation’s most prestigious program and research for Legionnaires’ disease.

The focus of this investigation should be:

1.         The failure of the Pittsburgh VA to recognize they had an outbreak and take preventive actions. We now know there were 16 cases and 5 deaths. The delay in recognizing the outbreak may have contributed to additional cases and deaths.

2.         The failure of the VA lab to detect Legionella in the water system of the VA University Drive.  This likely contributed to the delay in detecting the outbreak. This failure was due to lack of knowledge and experience - a problem brought to the attention of the VA Inspector General in 2009.

3.         Failure of the VA to operate and manage the copper-silver ionization disinfection system.

4.         Failure to communicate with physicians, staff, patients and families regarding the increase in cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.  The delay in alerting physicians may have contributed to additional morbidity and mortality.

It is my hope that these hearings will underscore the need for a stronger commitment by the VA to protect veterans from a disease that should have never happened, especially at the Pittsburgh VA. 

When it comes to Legionnaires’ disease, the Pittsburgh VA is unique. From 1980-2006, the Pittsburgh VA was recognized as the leader in Legionella research, a model for control and prevention, and provided Legionella services for VAs nationwide. Unfortunately, in 2012, veterans have now died from a wholly preventable disease.
 
The Pittsburgh VA identified the cause of the outbreak on November 16 stating that the disinfection system copper-silver ionization system, “may not be as effective as previously thought.”  However, this explanation is inadequate and raises more questions regarding monitoring and maintenance required for efficacy.

As a microbiologist and former director of the Special Pathogens Laboratory housed at the Pittsburgh VA from the 1980s through 2007, I established the program for monitoring the ionization system at the Pittsburgh VA. From 1997 – 2006, no cases of hospital-acquired occurred at the facility using this same technology. It is my understanding that this trend continued until the cluster (outbreak) of Legionnaires’ disease, which seems to have occurred at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare system (University Drive and Heinz) in 2011 and 2012.

Based on 30 years of expertise in Legionnaires’ disease and intimate knowledge of Legionella control and prevention at the Pittsburgh VA, it is my suspicion that adequate Legionella testing of the water and adequate monitoring for ionization levels weren’t  conducted. At the time of the 2012 outbreak, reports from the ionization manufacturers indicated that the copper and silver monitoring, when performed, did not meet the suggested frequency for testing or target levels and that documentation of this condition began as early as the spring of 2012.  

My research at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center from the early 1980s through 2007 provides me with specific relevant information of the processes and procedures in place at the Pittsburgh VA to prevent hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease. This includes the methods and schedule for monitoring (testing) Legionella and copper and silver ions, maintenance of the ionization system, diagnostic and microbiological methods used for detecting Legionnaires’ disease in patients at the Pittsburgh VA, and procedures used to investigate possible cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.

Through these efforts, Legionnaires’ disease was essentially eliminated at the Pittsburgh VA and our findings translated into hundreds of peer-reviewed papers which helped countless other healthcare and non-healthcare facilities prevent Legionnaires’ disease. The Pittsburgh VA had the expertise that others went to for help and set the highest standard for prevention. Unfortunately, in 2006, VA officials determined that Legionnaires’ disease was no longer a priority and closed the lab suddenly ending the nation’s most prestigious program and research for Legionnaires’ disease.

The focus of this investigation should be:

1.    The failure of the Pittsburgh VA to recognize they had an outbreak and take preventive actions. We now know there were 16 cases and 5 deaths. The delay in recognizing the outbreak may have contributed to additional cases and deaths.

2.    The failure of the VA lab to detect Legionella in the water system of the VA University Drive.  This likely contributed to the delay in detecting the outbreak. This failure was due to lack of knowledge and experience - a problem brought to the attention of the VA Inspector General in 2009.

3.    Failure of the VA to operate and manage the copper-silver ionization disinfection system.

4.    Failure to communicate with physicians, staff, patients and families regarding the increase in cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.  The delay in alerting physicians may have contributed to additional morbidity and mortality.

Recommendations:

1.    The Pittsburgh VA microbiology laboratory failed to detect Legionella in environmental samples due to inexperience, lack of knowledge and use of outdated methods.  They perform testing for other VA facilities across the U.S.  The Pittsburgh VA microbiology laboratory should discontinue offering Legionella testing services to other VA medical centers and should notify those facilities that the results of that testing may be inaccurate.

2.    The Pittsburgh VA microbiology laboratory is listed as a CDC certified laboratory for Legionella environmental testing – successfully participating in the CDC Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE).  Obviously a CDC ELITE certification does not guarantee that a laboratory is knowledgeable and experienced enough to give reliable results. The CDC should revisit their certification qualifications to address this weakness in the program.  They should require laboratories to participate in another external proficiency program such as the European Health Protection Agency Legionella External Quality Assessment for Legionella Isolation from Water Samples.

3.    The CDC is invited to assist facilities in dealing with outbreaks.  As a guest, their recommendations will not assign responsibility, but will merely suggest changes in policy.  It will be the role of this committee to hold people in administration accountable for the failures that led to this outbreak – both past and present.  They are management failures, not the failures of the front line worker.  Accountability needs to be from the top down, not the bottom up.

4.    The VA Legionella Directive and public health policies should not be rewritten due to the management failures at this facility.  It was the responsibility of the Pittsburgh VA to be current in knowledge and vigilant in following the policies and procedures that were already in place. The system is not broken, so don’t fix it.

5.    The VA management owes an apology to the physicians, staff, patients and families regarding the delay in informing them in a timely manner about the concerns that there was an increase in cases and that an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was suspected.  

Disclosure: I am the Director of the new Special Pathogens Laboratory, Pittsburgh, PA.   We provide Legionella testing services to VA hospitals across the U.S.

It is my hope that these hearings will underscore the need for a stronger commitment by the VA to protect veterans from a disease that should have never happened, especially at the Pittsburgh VA.