PITTSBURGH (CN) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs unreasonably and irresponsibly closed its Special Pathogens Lab and destroyed thousands of specimens, endangering public health, a doctor who worked there claims in Federal Court.
Dr. Victor Yu says the lab helped determine the cause of Legionnaire’s disease after its first known outbreak killed 34 people at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Yu, who filed his complaint pro se, said the VA Medical Center in Pittsburgh was one of three VA hospitals that suffered outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease in the late 1970s. As a result, he says, the VA created the Special Pathogens Laboratory, to which private and public organizations sent specimens for testing for Legionnaire’s disease. Yu says the disease still afflicts more than 20,000 Americans every year.
Yu says he was head of the lab, which was financed by fees from those who submitted specimens from testing, and from grants and donations. He claims that on July 7, 2006, the VA ordered the lab closed, and ordered its workers to stop work on specimens that already had been submitted. It followed up this irresponsible and dangerous order by locking out lab workers, destroying specimens and equipment, and defaming and firing him, Yu says.
He says that after the VA closed the lab, he negotiated the transfer of 4,000 organisms, specimens and isolates to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, but the VA incinerated it all before it could be transferred. He calls that “an outrageous and unjustified act that has harmed the public, the VA, (and) its patients,” and says that “hundreds of physicians and scientists” have protested the destruction of the material, in letters to the VA and to Congress.
He demands punitive damages for failure to maintain records and other violations.