Congressman Keith Rothfus

Representing the 12th District of Pennsylvania

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: VA disciplinary actions against Pittsburgh workers unspecified

Aug 7, 2014
In The News
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs tried to punish as many as five workers in connection with a fatal Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Oakland and O'Hara, a department letter to a congressman shows.
Three of the five cases have been closed, Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, department under secretary, wrote in a July 24 letter to Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
It wasn't clear whether each case represents a separate worker or whether workers in the closed cases were punished. Clancy did not offer those details in the letter, which Murphy's office released on Wednesday.
The VA would not elaborate in response to Tribune-Review questions. Six patients died and at least 16 others fell sick in the confirmed outbreak period from February 2011 to November 2012 in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
“We have a bureaucracy that seems incapable of providing promptly the kind of information we've asked for,” said Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, who asked the VA in November to disclose how it would hold employees accountable for the outbreak.
He called it “very frustrating” that it took the VA eight months to respond to him and Murphy, who made a similar request. They joined Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican and chairman of a House VA subcommittee, in requesting more details from Clancy.
In an Aug. 1 letter, the lawmakers asked for the names or positions of disciplined workers, along with an accounting of all disciplinary actions and other specifics. If the VA cannot comply, it should identify the legal provisions that show why, the lawmakers wrote.
“The families still grieve and ask why no one has been held accountable for the failures that led to this tragedy,” Murphy said in a statement. He said the VA's actions thus far are “wholly insufficient to hold accountable those involved and provide solace to the families who lost loved ones.”
Federal standards often prevent the disclosure of certain personal information about government workers, including disciplinary records, unless an employee allows the release of that information, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Still, VA officials announced June 13 that Pittsburgh VA Director Terry Gerigk Wolf would go on paid leave “pending the completion of administrative actions related to the Legionella outbreak.” She remains on leave as Dr. David S. Macpherson serves as interim director.
A regional VA director who oversaw the Pittsburgh system, Michael E. Moreland, retired last November, about a year after the VA first disclosed a Legionnaires' problem.
At the American Federation of Government Employees in Washington, assistant general counsel J. Ward Morrow said the union doesn't know of any AFGE-represented workers who might be punished because of the outbreak. The group represents about 2,500 rank-and-file employees at the Pittsburgh VA, which includes campuses on University Drive in Oakland and Delafield Road in O'Hara.
Morrow said the failures contributing to the outbreak appear to be in the administration and management ranks. Internal reviews last year found bacteria-tainted tap water, mismanagement of water treatment systems and other mistakes.
“The union is certainly open to proposals so something like this never happens again,” Morrow said.