VA hospitals faulted for lax infection control

Scott Hensley

About Scott Hensley

Scott Hensley runs NPR's online health channel, Shots. Previously he was the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog and covered the drug industry and the Human Genome Project for the Journal. Hensley serves on AHCJ's board of directors. You can follow him at @ScottHensley.

The Veterans Affairs health system may be a model for electronic medical records and savvy drug purchasing, but all bets are off when it comes to the disinfection of equipment for colonoscopies.

After reports of problems piled up, the VA inspector general did some surprise inspections at the government-run hospitals and found they weren’t doing a good enough job sterilizing endoscopes. Yesterday, congressmen blasted the VA for not fixing the problems even after it became aware of them.

“The failure of medical facilities to comply on such a large scale with repeated alerts and
directives suggests fundamental defects in organizational structure,” said the report by the VA OIG. Inadequate cleaning of the equipment may have exposed more than 10,000 vets to hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV.

In all, more than 40 facilities got the once-over by investigators, including three which have been “the subject of considerable media attention.” Those are the Bruce W. Carter VAMC in Miami, the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System-Murfreesboro campus, and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.

The Tennessean has a handy chronology of the colonoscopy controversy and a recent story with reactions from affected patients. “There’s nothing they can say,” said Thomas Mayo, a 58-year-old Vietnam vet who learned in February that he has hepatitis C. “They’ve given me something that may kill me.”

For more, see testimony by the VA in this Associated Press video.

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