by Nicholas J. Vocca
1,812 dental patients from several states at the John Cochran Veterans Administration Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri were notified by letter that they may have been put at risk as being exposed to the blood borne pathogens Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome Virus, HIV, between February 2009 through March, 2010.
According to Doctor Gina Michaels, the association chief of staff at the hospital, this failure happened because some dental technicians "thought they were doing the right thing by washing the dental tools themselves" using a sink and strong soap when instead they should have sent them to the hospital's sanitizing and sterilizing department.
"These technicians," says Doctor Michaels, "were trying to protect the delicate instruments in cleaning them by hand, but instead, they were breaking protocol.
Even though the dental technicians did break protocol by hand washing the instruments, they were still sterilized by a machine that uses high heat and pressure which kills most germs. However, some can withstand the heat, and that is why they are washed by special machines.
Doctor Michaels stated that John Cochran VA has went to "great lengths" by establishing a special clinic with a hotline telephone number where calls are answered to address the concerns of possibly infected veterans, as well as establishing a program to orient veterans and families about the problems, and further offers blood testing and counseling, if they want.
Though KSDK reporter Mike Owens spoke with one veteran at Cochran who said he felt he was being treated appropriately by the VA and was not worried, then Congressman Russ Carnahan, (D-Mo.), stated he was "concerned," and called for full investigation by the House Veterans Affairs Committee to launch a full investigation into what went wrong, and why?
In his letter to The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mister Carnahan stated that "a grievance of this magnitude is unacceptable. No veteran who has served and risked their life for this great Nation should have to worry about their personal safety when being treated by the VA.'
Carnahan further insisted that the VA open a formal investigation into the matter, and stated that "the VA must determine what caused this indefensible breach of standard operation procedure, and the report what the VA intends to do about the situation to remedy this unfortunate situation so it does not occur again."
At 2:51 p.m., est, on May 22, I called the John Cochran VA Hospital in Saint Louis, (1-314-652-4100), in an attempt to get updated information on what additional measures this facility has taken over this matter, and to see if any veterans have been reported to have contacted any of the viruses mentioned in this article.
The male operator who answered first connected me to the Executive Offices, then came back on line at 2:53 to inform me he was transferring me to Medical Media. At 2:56, after that department's phone went unanswered, the same operator came back, and then transferred me to the office of Marcina Gunter. When at 3;12 Miss Gunter's phone went unanswered, he then gave me the direct line to call, 1-314-289-6393, which was answered by one John Farrel.
Upon listening to the information needed, Mister Farrel informed me that I would need to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with this concern, and that he would get back with me as soon as possible for a follow up on this situation.
In an upcoming report from a Miami-based Veterans Affairs Hospital, we will cover the findings of patients being treated with contaminated equipment when receiving colonscopies, which led the Miami Herald to write a scathing editorial, and launched yet another investigation into this apparently troubled agency entrusted to care for America's veterans.