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This week, 1,812 veterans who had dental work done at the John Cochran Division of the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, received letters warning them they may have been exposed to HIV and other infectious diseases. Patients treated at the Medical Center from February 2009, to March 2010, are being notified they could contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV due to dental equipment that was improperly cleaned.
Although the letter to the affected veterans states that the risk of "infection was extremely low," blood tests are being made available to them, according to a report by FOXNews. "VA leadership recognizes the seriousness of this situation and has implemented safeguards to prevent a similar situation from occurring again," the letter said.
CNN reports that Dr. Gina Michael, the association chief of staff at the hospital, told a CNN affiliate that some dental technicians broke protocol by hand-washing tools before putting them in cleaning machines. The proper protocol requires the equipment be placed in the sterilizer without being pre-washed.
Congressman Russ Carnahan is up in arms over the failures at the hospital. "This is absolutely unacceptable," Carnahan, a Democrat from Missouri, told CNN. "No veteran who has served and risked their life for this great nation should have to worry about their personal safety when receiving much needed healthcare services from a Veterans Administration hospital."
Sadly, these are not the only injuries sustained by veterans due to medical treatments from their own administration. CNN says that this past June, Palomar Hospital in San Diego, California, sent letters to 3,400 patients who underwent colonoscopy and other similar procedures, informing the patients that there may be a potential of infection from items used and reused in the procedures. And according to FOX, in November 2009, such serious safety issues occurred at a southern Illinois Veterans Affairs hospital that major surgeries were suspended because of a spike in patient deaths.
According to a federal report, surgeons at the VA medical center in Marion, Ill. performed procedures without proper authorization, patient deaths were not assessed adequately and miscommunication between staff members persisted.
Veterans who received the letter from the John Cochran VA Center will receive free blood tests and results in a timely manner.