St. Louis VA Medical Center Problems Identified More Than A Year Ago

A former sterility processing employee says that supervisors at a St. Louis VA medical center ignored warnings that they were practicing improper sterility procedures a year before the facility was forced to warn more than 1,800 veterans that they may have been exposed to blood borne diseases while undergoing dental procedures at the facility. 

Earlene Johnson testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans’ Affairs committee last week, telling lawmakers that her efforts to warn about inadequate sterility procedures fell on deaf ears at the John Cochran Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Louis, and her persistence led to her being fired while on disability leave. The VA hearing was called in response to 1,812 warning letters the hospital sent out to veterans in late June telling them they needed to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis C.

The letters were sent after hospital officials determined that dental technicians took it upon themselves to wash dental tools using soap and water, instead of sending them to be cleaned properly by the hospital department charged with sanitizing and sterilizing medical instruments. While the instruments were still sent on later to be cleaned, the breach in proper protocol could have still led to veterans being put at risk, hospital officials said. The improper cleaning procedures went on from February 2009 until March 2010, when inspectors discovered the error.

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“I warned management that they needed to go to every auxiliary department to ensure no one was sterilizing any instrument or anything that pertains to Sterile Processing,” Johnson said in her written testimony, in which she says she was rebuffed when she tried to take her concerns to higher levels. “Afterwards, I started being harassed and intimidated because of my warning.” Johnson said she was eventually fired while on medical leave and is suing to get her job back.

Committee Chairman Bob Filner said in his testimony that lawmakers also appeared to have been stonewalled and did not receive the information they needed in a timely manner. He also chastised hospital officials for trying to dismiss the hearing as a political ploy in the media.

The VA hospital system has faced substantial criticism over the quality of medical treatment provided at other medical clinics in multiple states throughout the course of 2009. Investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported in June that a cancer unit at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center mishandled nearly 100 cases involving radiation treatment and suggested that staff involved had altered records to cover mistakes. The VA is also still dealing with the fallout from colonoscopy problems at VA centers in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, where contaminated equipment exposed thousands of veterans to hepatitis, HIV and other blood borne diseases. Lawmakers blasted the VA in a hearing last July for the repeated lapses in veteran care.

“My biggest concern is that we’ve been here before,” said Rep. Hilner, referring to the sterility problems with colonoscopy equipment. “Clearly, VA has had issues with ensuring the sterility of reusable medical equipment in the past and clearly thy have yet to resolve these problems.”

3 Comments

  • nicholasNovember 24, 2010 at 12:11 am

    I have been getting my medical care from the rochester ny va clinic on westfall road. The service has been horrible for so long i dont know were to begin. I currently have to drive over sixty miles for treatment of my MS. Some of the treatments are very harsh for this disease. When the rochester va clinic tried to provide me transportation for iv steroid treatments, they failed to provide me with [Show More]I have been getting my medical care from the rochester ny va clinic on westfall road. The service has been horrible for so long i dont know were to begin. I currently have to drive over sixty miles for treatment of my MS. Some of the treatments are very harsh for this disease. When the rochester va clinic tried to provide me transportation for iv steroid treatments, they failed to provide me with a van that was close to any common sense standard of ridable for someone going threw IV steriod treatments. i was told by many that the service they used was the cheapest contract they could find. This contradicts what senators want for service connected disabled veterans. The van that was used shook like a leaf it smelt like gas and oil, the driver had to wrap the seat belt up in paper so he would not get oil on his shirt. the vans had over 300,000 miles on them. The Rochester ny VMAC failed to live up to the standards of 'We will provide our veterans with the best of care. They did not And of course when you speak up about such poor conditions be careful. I know in my case my medical records became a way for the VAMC to retaliate

  • bobOctober 14, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    One or more of the lawyers who read this story about Cochran might be interested in knowing that there's a possibility of many more veteran clients from Cochran VAMC for them to represent. Look at the March 1, 2010 issue oif MIT News, "Second Opinion? Diagnosing Doctors," for a description of a process still taking place at Cochran ("30,000 veterans over a 13 year period") whereby half of the v[Show More]One or more of the lawyers who read this story about Cochran might be interested in knowing that there's a possibility of many more veteran clients from Cochran VAMC for them to represent. Look at the March 1, 2010 issue oif MIT News, "Second Opinion? Diagnosing Doctors," for a description of a process still taking place at Cochran ("30,000 veterans over a 13 year period") whereby half of the veterans they treat are deliberately pushed into treatment tean "B" which has the lower quality docs and residents, from school vastly inferior to that of progarm "A" docs. Research is done to compare resultrs of differential treatment, Preventable medicakl errors resultiung in death are common in all hospitals, buy a veteran who had a loved one die at the hands of program "B" docs/residents might have a case. I'm a veterans advocate and just want to get the story out

  • billJuly 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Ms. Johnson, is a loyal American who was fired because she filed an EEO not because she was a whistleblower. Although being a whisleblower hasted her bein fired. It appears that incompetence and coverup are essential valued traits in the VA. An investigation by the VA Inspector General regarding the delay of cancer treatment and death for a patient at Zablocki VAMC in Milwuakee. SEE : http:[Show More]Ms. Johnson, is a loyal American who was fired because she filed an EEO not because she was a whistleblower. Although being a whisleblower hasted her bein fired. It appears that incompetence and coverup are essential valued traits in the VA. An investigation by the VA Inspector General regarding the delay of cancer treatment and death for a patient at Zablocki VAMC in Milwuakee. SEE : http://www4.va.gov/oig/54/reports/VAOIG-09-01348-49.pdf While gross medical malpractice was performed by 2 radiologists, a radiation oncologist, a surgeon , and an internal medicine doctor, all of whom are faculty at Medical College of Wisconsin, none was reprimanded, demoted or fired. You might say a comedy of medical errors except the patient died. And quit likely, the IG has to be called in to investigate an attempted coverup this gross medical errors, Veterans sacrifice their lives at the war front and to get this type of care at home is immoral. Loyal Americans docs and VA workers are losing the battle in providing safe medical care for vets.

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