June 7, 2013
By Neal Tepel
WASHINGTON, DC – The American Federation of Government Employees has issued a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calling for an investigation into the presence of high levels of legionella at multiple healthcare facilities that are under the direction of Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN).
Following a VA Office of Inspector General investigation into the Legionnaires' outbreak in the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, reports of high levels of legionella at other facilities began to surface.
"Our folks on the ground have been invaluable in terms of alerting us to their concerns that directly impact patient care," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. "Hospital employees are on the front-lines of providing care to our veterans and it is essential that the agency provide a safe environment for patients and staff. In addition, we are extremely concerned that issues surrounding legionella continue to pop up at facilities under Mr. Moreland's direction."
AFGE's letter to OSHA indicated that high levels of legionella have been detected at a VA facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and at a VA contractor facility in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The letter also stated that the union believes the VA have failed in their duties to "provide a safe and healthful place and conditions of employment, and the facilities are is not maintaining its legionella eradication equipment as required."
"We cannot have a repeat of what happened in Pittsburgh," said AFGE District 3 National Vice President Keith Hill, referring to a fatal legionella outbreak that took the lives of five veterans and sickened other patients and a number of employees, and also was the subject of a February 2013 Congressional hearing. "It is critical that employees are notified immediately of any concerns of this magnitude so that they can protect themselves and our nation's heroes. Leaving healthcare workers in the dark puts our veterans at risk."
"We believe it's time for OSHA to step in and conduct its own investigation to determine whether the VA is continuing to neglect its duty under the law to implement specific procedures to prevent another Legionnaires' outbreak from occurring within its facilities," said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. "The agency must be vigilant in providing a safe environment for patients and employees, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the VA is meeting that obligation."