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