Legionella bacteria a deadly stain on VA

When Nevada State Veterans Home resident Charles Demos Sr. died in April 2015 with Legionella in his system, an investigation by the Southern Nevada Health District found the deadly bacteria present at the facility and in his room.

A cleanup was ordered, according to health district records. And that might have been the end of the story.

When news of the Demos family’s lawsuit surfaced early this year, raising the issue of whether the incident was isolated, the administrator of the Boulder City veterans retirement center was defensive and argued that the facility has more than earned its five-star rating.

The local civil case is in its early stages, but one fact isn’t in question: Veterans Affairs continues to be plagued by Legionella-linked deaths at retirement homes and medical facilities across the country. That fact alone ought to at least be acknowledged by local officials who spend so much of their time defending a facility designed to offer a safe and respectable quality of life to the region’s retired military service personnel.

In Pittsburgh, the VA Health System has battled Legionella in its water system for decades. In 2011, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease-linked pneumonia killed six and made an additional 16 severely ill. In 2015, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune and VA websites, six more patients were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. Whether they contracted it at a VA facility or elsewhere is unclear, according to one report.

Inferior water sampling procedures in the Pittsburgh system led to nationwide changes at VA medical facilities, and officials eventually were compelled to admit that human error helped lead to preventable tragedy. In August 2014, a directive from the Veterans Health Administration outlined the appropriate steps to take to eliminate Legionella from water systems.

In a public apology, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald said, “On behalf of the VA, I am deeply sorry. To the families who lost loved ones and to those who lost confidence in health care here, this is really a tragedy.”

He knew prevention had been possible.

But by 2015, a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Soldiers &Sailors Home in Quincy killed a dozen retired veterans. More than 50 others were severely sickened by the bacteria that thrives in old and under-chlorinated water systems. The Quincy outbreak moved Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin to call for an another investigation of the health system.

Last August, the VA Hospital in Phoenix relocated 20 patients who tested positive for Legionella. Not long after, a VA facility in Tucson, Ariz., also was focused on the possible presence of the bacteria, which fortunately turned out to be negative.

The list goes on. A cursory computer search of the past few months reveals Legionella discoveries at VA facilities in Memphis, Minneapolis and Bonham, Texas.

The deadly bacteria is being discovered time and again as federal officials perform their due diligence. The discoveries don’t automatically equate to negligence, but they do constitute a clarion call for vigilance.

Back in Southern Nevada, members of the Demos family remain emotional about the loss of their elderly father and what they believe was a lack of professionalism and compassion on the part of the VA. They want the issue cleaned up, not covered up, and they took the extreme step of suing to ensure justice is done and necessary improvements are made.

Perhaps the Boulder City home isn’t the worst offender — especially given the tragedies in Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere — but the VA’s failure to eliminate Legionella from its facilities nationally remains a deadly stain on the agency.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

News Videos
Henderson fails to investigate the drug overdose death of one of its officers
Henderson Police Department's internal affairs did not investigate the 2014 drug overdose death of an officer. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing