A congressional panel will look into the recent problems at VA Hospitals that occurred in at least three states, where thousands of veterans were potentially exposed to HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases caused by unsterilized equipment.
The U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs oversight and investigations subcommittee scheduled a hearing for June 16, 2009, to inquire about the issues that resulted in letters being sent to10,555 former VA hospital patients recommending that they obtain blood tests because they were treated with equipment that was not properly cleaned between patients.
As of May 18, 2009, more than 8,000 patients had been tested. Five of those patients tested positive for HIV and 43 tested positive for hepatitis.
The congressional subcommittee intends to look at what caused the VA hospital problems, which affected patients at VA facilities in Miami, Fl., Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga., where patients were exposed to improperly cleaned or operated endoscopic equipment used primarily for colonoscopies.
At the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, where the first VA hospital contamination problems were first discovered, an incorrect valve may have caused contaminated bodily fluids to be transferred from person-to-person.
A subsequent review of procedures at all facilities led to the discovery of similar problems at Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta.
The potential exposures occurred during treatments as far back as April 2003 at the Tennessee GI Clinic, May 2004 at the Miami GI Clinic and January 2008 at the Augusta ENT Clinic.
The Department of Veteran Affairs identified human error and improper training as key factors in the problems. For example, at the Miami VA clinic, a colonoscopy tube was cleaned only once per day instead of after every use.
While it is unclear whether the problems at the VA hospitals directly led to the reported cases of HIV and hepatitis infections, the subcommittee chair, U.S. Rep Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), said last week, “whether it came from these improper procedures or not, the VA has a responsibility to take care of these patients.”
Over 100 VA personnel at the three hospitals have been assigned to make sure that potentially affected veterans receive prompt testing and counseling.
In the wake of the initial discovery of potential contamination a Murfreesboro last December, the VA has investigated potential problems at 153 facilities nationwide. VA officials also reportedly discovered problems at 12 other facilities, which they did not identify. None of those problems have required follow-up blood tests, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.