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VA Blasted Over Tainted Procedures

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 9:32 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Protecting Your Family, Veterans Affairs, HIV, Colonscopy, Endoscopy, Medical Equipment


IMAGE SOURCE: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Seal

Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeared before a Congressional subcommittee in the House of Representatives on Tuesday to discuss the exposure of thousands of veterans to HIV and other diseases.

The VA first launched an investigation in February after learning that 10,300 patients at three agency hospitals in – Miami, Fla., Augusta, Ga. and Murfreesboro, Tenn. – were potentially exposed to HIV, Hepatitis and other infectious diseases through non-sterile equipment used during colonoscopy and endoscopy procedures. The cases go as far back as 2003.

To date, 13 veterans have tested positive for hepatitis B, 34 for hepatitis C and six for HIV, according to the VA. But there is no way to prove whether the infections came from VA procedures, and some experts say most or all of the infections likely already existed.

Twenty-six inspectors conducted unannounced onsite visits to 42 VA locations to determine if similar lax sterilization procedures were in place. They found similar problems at more than 12 other facilities, but said they do not warrant follow-up blood tests, according to the Associated Press.

At the Congressional hearing on Tuesday, the Inspector General said that fewer than half of the facilities visited during last month’s random inspections have proper training and guidelines in place to improve safety.

VA officials say the widespread deficiencies, after repeated warnings, suggest problems in the organizational structure.

“The VA is an important part of our health care system, and as such it this is an important issue for everyone,” said Dr. B. Weiserbs with the Endoscopy Center of SW Viriginia.

After each procedure, Dr. Weiserbs instruments get a multi-layer cleaning that takes nearly an hour to complete. The technicians follow a sequence of steps to disinfect the scopes to avoid infection including enzyme soaks, ultrasonic cleaning with chemicals, flushing and an alcohol treatment.

The key, says Dr. Weiserbs, to ensuring no patient is contaminated is through proper training and a consistent sterilization process, something the VA, in general, is accused of being lax about.

The department will make unannounced inspections of facilities using the equipment to ensure that each facility is fully qualified by the end of July. It will also undertake a two-year review of endoscopy procedures that will eventually require the work of those performing the procedures to be reviewed every day by other colleagues.

The report notes the VA is not alone in reporting problems with endoscopy procedures. Private hospitals in both California and Pennsylvania have notified thousands of patients about similar concerns in recent years.

Read the Veterans Affairs Inspector General Report (PDF). #

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