VA Hospital Warns Thousands of Vets of Possible Infection Risk from Improperly Cleaned Equipment

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Entrance to the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center.
Entrance to the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia. (Department of Veterans Affairs photo)

Roughly 4,000 patients at a Georgia Veterans Affairs hospital have been advised to get tested for several blood-borne viruses following concerns over the facility's sterilization procedures for reusable medical devices.

Veterans at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center are being notified that they need to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV following a discovery that the durable medical equipment used during their procedures "may not have received all the necessary steps for complete and safe reprocessing," according to press release sent to WMAZ-TV of Macon, Georgia.

The medical center halted all medical procedures and operations from Jan. 12-14 over concerns about the sterilization process for reusable medical devices.

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But any patient who had a dentistry, endoscopy, urology, podiatry, optometry or surgical procedure from Jan. 3-27 are being urged to get tested.

"We do recommend testing even if you don't have symptoms," a fact sheet sent to veterans and posted by WMAZ said.

In the letter sent Feb. 9, Dublin VA Health Care System Director Manuel Davila said the hospital learned during an internal review that the steps needed for a complete or safe sterilization may have not been followed consistently, according to the station.

Officials added, however, that the risk of an "infectious disease is very low."

Medical center officials did not respond to a request for comment by publication.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has had a number of high-profile scandals involving dirty medical equipment. Between 2003 and 2008 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; in 2008 in Augusta, Georgia; and from 2004 to 2009 in Miami, 11,000 veterans underwent endoscopic procedures with unsterilized equipment, placing them at risk for cross-contamination.

As a result, six veterans contracted HIV and 37 tested positive for hepatitis. Several of those affected filed lawsuits against VA, settling or winning awards of more than $1 million.

For the most part, only veterans who received services at the hospital need to be tested. However, patients who received optometry procedures at the center's affiliated community-based outpatient clinics also are being advised to get tested.

The Dublin VA Health System, which oversees the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center, has set up a walk-in testing site for all potentially affected patients, available through Feb. 25.

Patients also can be tested concurrently with any VA medical appointment or other lab procedure, according to the fact sheet.

Counseling also is available for affected veterans.

Should a patient test positive for an infectious disease as a result of the errors, the VA will provide medical treatment and will test the veterans' caregivers or family members, the fact sheet noted.

– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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