Mold outbreak at VA Bay Pines center called ‘chronic, recurrent problem’

A St. Petersburg allergist, who has treated employees at the medical center, blames leaks along with a poorly designed heating and cooling system.
Published December 10 2018
Updated December 10 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — An outbreak of mold at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center shows the Veterans Administration isn’t doing enough to deal a “chronic, recurrent problem,” says an allergist who has treated people who complained about health problems from the mold.

“The main problem is that the ‘remediations’ have not successfully corrected the high humidity environment,” Stephen J. Klemawesch, founder of Allergy Associates, said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “Until this is done, mold will continue to grow.”

What’s more, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist said “the situation falls far short” of the world-class care military veterans deserve.

“The idea that staff and patients were working and receiving treatment in space containing mold is deeply troubling,” Crist, the St. Petersburg Democrat, said in a statement to the Times.

Employees in the social work unit have long complained about mold in Building T-203 at the sprawling Bay Pines campus. The building was evacuated last month and 60 employees were moved after an air quality test OF THE building found elevated levels of mold known to cause health problems in those with comprised immune systems.

But the problems go beyond Building T-203, a manufactured structure prone to water intrusion. Eleven other rooms were affected by mold, in some cases forcing patients and personnel to be moved, Bay Pines officials said.

Bay Pines spokeswoman Melanie Thomas declined to say how many were moved from the additional rooms nor would she comment on Klemawesch’s contention that the center isn’t doing enough to deal with humidity levels.

The two most likely culprits are leaks and poor heating and cooling system engineering, “with a mismatch of compressors/air handlers,” Klemawesch said, responding to questions from the Times.

Thomas said the 12 rooms with mold represent only a tiny portion of the 5,245 rooms on the medical campus. Remediation is planned for two areas — a designated office space in building 100 and a patient room in building 71-101. Both have been closed.

“In both cases, the space’s occupants have been moved and relocated to new spaces for the time being,” Thomas said.

In addition, the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System conducted a mold assessment Oct. 22 in the Building 23 Dental Clinic.

“Although the results of the report determined that there were no elevated levels of mold, there was water staining on ceiling tiles and visible mold growth in one of the rooms,” Thomas said. “Remediation has been completed in some areas and continues in others.”

She called the process standard of practice for the VA, involving a team of experts and a third party Certified Industrial Hygienist.

“We are also pending an award of a remediation contract for mold to provide more support to our efforts, she said.

U.S. Rep. Crist said he, too, is closely monitoring the center’s progress.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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