U.S. lawmakers railed against problems with the veteran health system after surprise inspections revealed that only 43% of Veterans Affairs facilities had adequate health safety procedures for endoscopic procedures. The inspections came following a discovery that thousands of veterans were exposed to unsanitary equipment, hepatitis and HIV due to unsafe medical procedures at VA health centers.
“Exposing our veterans to that type of risk is unacceptable … and frankly, I’m outraged that any of our nation’s heroes were potentially infected or that they even have to worry about that possibility,” said Rep. Harry E. Mitchell (D-AZ), who chairs an oversight and investigation subcommittee for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “We have been here before, and time and again, we have seen the VA violate the trust of those who have bravely served this country.”
The congressman’s comments came during a hearing Tuesday morning reviewing progress of the health system in the wake of VA Clinic problems linked to the use of contaminated endoscopic equipment used for colonoscopy tests and ear, nose and throat exams.
The colonoscopy contamination problems were discovered in December 2008 at the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A review of the procedures at all VA clinics over the months after the discovery led to the discovery of additional VA health center problems at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Florida.
VA officials told the committee that inspections in May showed little progress following the scandal, with only 43% of facilities having the proper training and procedures in place to perform safe, sanitary endoscopic procedures. Inspections revealed management deficiencies at some facilities which will likely result in disciplinary actions.
“The results of our unannounced inspections led to the conclusion that serious management issues need to be addressed by VA with respect to the management of industrial processes such as reprocessing of endoscopes,” said Dr. John Daigh, Jr., VA Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections in testimony to the House subcommittee.
The potential exposures, caused by improper cleaning and use of endoscopic equipment, required the VA to notify 10,000 former patients that they should get tested for HIV and hepatitis. So far, the VA has reported that six of those veterans have tested positive for HIV, 13 for hepatitis B and 34 for hepatitis C. However, it has not yet been confirmed whether the infections were contracted due to the VA problems.