St. Louis VA hospital subject of hearing today after possibly infecting patients with viruses due to improperly sterilized equipment

veteransaffairs-seal.jpgAllegations of medical negligence are being investigated against St. Louis, Missouri VA Hospital, John Cochran Medical Center. A couple of weeks ago, the hospital sent letters to over 1,800 veteran patients telling them that they might have been infected by viruses from improperly cleaned and sterilized dental equipment at the hospital. The chief of the dental clinic, Danny L. Turner, was placed on administrative leave. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs is holding a hearing today on the issue.

Although there are allegations that certain dental equipment used on patients was not properly cleaned, the VA maintains that the risk of infections is minimal. The hospital offered free blood tests to those who might be at risk for infection, including testing for Hepatitis and HIV. Some patients have taken advantage of the free blood screening.

A detergent is supposed to be used on instruments before they are put in the high heat sterilizer. The instruments at Cochran were only rinsed first, and no detergent was being used. Although the instruments did not undergo detergent cleansing, they were still exposed to high heat sterilization, which the VA maintains should kill any potentially dangerous viruses. This improper sterilization technique was discovered by an infection control team who conducted a routine inspection in March, 2010.

A hearing is being held in St. Louis today at the Eagleton federal court building, conducted by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Many area politicians plan to attend. An employee who allegedly raised concerns about the sterilization technique as early as last summer is set to testify, as well as the director of Cochran.

Unfortunately, risks of potential mass infections in hospitals are common. Several hospitals throughout the nation have issued warnings to patients about the possible risks of being infected due to improperly sterilized equipment, including colonoscopy tubes, surgical equipment, and laryngoscopes. Patients should not be put at risk of personal injury or infection while undergoing health care, nor should they have to suffer emotional distress and fear of possibly being infected.