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Pittsburgh VA hospital volunteer sues after getting Legionnaires' disease

PITTSBURGH — A Vietnam veteran who says he contracted Legionnaires’ disease while volunteering at the Pittsburgh VA’s University Drive campus has filed the latest lawsuit over the Legionella outbreak that sickened at least 22 people and killed six patients.

Edward Stockley, an Army veteran and former steelworker who retired as a cook with the H.J. Heinz Co., contracted the disease after using the VA’s water fountains to take his medication, according to the suit filed today in U.S. District Court.

After several days of chills, nausea, vomiting and chest pain, Mr. Stockley went to the VA’s ER and tested positive for the Legionella bacteria in December of 2011, the suit says. He required a nine-day hospital stay, and “his health has not been the same” since, the suit alleges.

Within about a month of the first public announcement — in November 2012 — that the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System had experienced a Legionnaires’ outbreak, the VA knew the bacteria had flourished because of its employees’ decisions, errors and lack of knowledge, and not a water disinfection system that officials tried to blame the outbreak on for more than a year, according to a pair of internal VA reviews completed in December 2012 and recently obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mr. Stockley’s lawsuit, also filed on behalf of his wife, Paula, says officials at the Pittsburgh VA knew about the presence of Legionella bacteria in the University Drive hospital water system a year earlier, in the summer of 2011.

“Rather than reporting the presence of Legionella to the appropriate health officials, the officials at the VA Pittsburgh and VA University Drive Hospital attempted to control the outbreak on their own,” the suit says.

The suit alleges that they botched that effort, failing to properly maintain the hospital’s water-treatment system and correct problems as well as failing to test all of the patients in the hospital with suspected “hospital-acquired pneumonia,” allowing 10 cases of Legionnaires’ to go unreported.

David E. Cowgill, a spokesman for the VA, said he could not comment on pending litigation and referred questions about potential disciplinary actions against VA employees to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Another volunteer at the University Drive hospital, Kenneth Jordan, filed suit last month, also alleging he contracted Legionnaires’ at the facility.
 

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