Vet­er­ans may have been ex­posed to dis­eases at St. Louis fa­cil­ity

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

ST. LOUIS — The Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs sent letters to more than 1,800 vet­er­ans this week, cau­tion­ing that they might have been ex­posed to a host of blood-borne dis­eases while un­der­go­ing den­tal work at the city’s Cochran VA med­i­cal cen­ter.

The letters, which char­ac­ter­ize the risk of ex­po­sure as low, state that the source of the po­ten­tial con­tam­i­na­tion is den­tal equip­ment that “may not have been cleaned cor­rectly.” The letters of­fer free blood test­ing for HIV, hep­ati­tis B and hep­ati­tis C to 1,812 vet­er­ans treated at the John Cochran Di­vi­sion from Feb. 1, 2009, to March 11, 2010.

It added that “we are tak­ing all the nec­es­sary steps to make cer­tain that test­ing is of­fered quickly, and re­sults com­mu­ni­cated timely,” and that the St. Louis staff mem-

Pro­ce­dures call for in­stru­ments to be cleaned with a spe­cial de­ter­gent be­fore be­ing ster­il­ized, but the St. Louis fa­cil­ity had failed to carry out that step.

KATIE ROBERTS, depart­ment spokes­woman

bers are “do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to ad­dress this sit­u­a­tion and pre­vent it from oc­cur­ring again.”

This is not the first time the fa­cil­ity has had prob­lems with un­san­i­tary med­i­cal equip­ment. A re­port is­sued in April by the Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral of the VA iden­ti­fied “on­go­ing” prob­lems with con­tam­i­nated en­do­scopes at the hos­pi­tal, not- ing that in­spec­tors found that “rags and dis­pos­able gloves were strewn about” and that there was no “de­fined clean and dirty ar­eas” in the hos­pi­tal’s ster­il­iza­tion unit.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion came to light dur­ing a rou­tine in­spec­tion of the fa­cil­ity. A spokes­woman for the depart­ment said that pro­ce­dures call for in­stru­ments to be cleaned with a spe­cial de­ter­gent be­fore be­ing ster­il­ized, but the St. Louis fa­cil­ity had failed to carry out that step.

Asked why the depart­ment waited 31⁄ months to no­tify vet­er­ans, the spokes­woman, Katie Roberts, said in an e-mailed state­ment that it wanted to iden­tify all “vet­er­ans who were po­ten­tially at risk. VA is in the process of stan­dard­iz­ing the stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures for the clean­ing of all re­us­able med­i­cal equip­ment across the coun­try.”

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