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Over 4,000 vets potentially exposed to unsterile medical devices

par John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 22, 2022
Risk Management
Over 4,000 vets were potentially exposed to unclean medical equipment due to improper sterilization
More than 4,000 veterans may have been exposed to unclean medical equipment at Carl Vinson Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia and are encouraged now to get blood tests.

The hospital shut down last month from January 12 to 14 after concerns were raised about how it sterilizes and reprocesses reusable medical equipment, reported CBS affiliate, WMAZ.

As a result, the VA is now notifying all veterans who had dentistry, endoscopy, urology, podiatry, optometry or surgical procedures in the last year to get tested for bloodborne illnesses. It recommends but does not require them to get tested for illnesses such as hepatitis B and C and HIV.

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"Those veterans that were identified will be receiving a letter in the mail not only explaining what happened, but also explaining the next steps," said Manuel Davila, the director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center, in a statement.

He adds that the hospital has determined through clinical review that the risk of infection is very low but is thoroughly investigating how and why sterilization processes may not have been followed correctly. It has also consulted one of its sister facilities in Augusta, which sent down a sterilization team.

The tests are being offered for free by the VA between Feb. 9 and 25, and the results should come back in the next one to two months. The VA will cover treatment for any who test positive for an infectious disease as a result and will provide testing for the veterans’ caregivers or family. Counseling will also be provided.

Davila says the main objective right now is to “regain the trust of our patients. If we find information or we find concerns, then we may look back further than January. We may go back two years, or we may go back three years. It just depends on what we find in the initial lookback.”

Dirty and improperly sterilized medical equipment has been an issue in the past for the VA. Between 2003 and 2008 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; in 2008, in Augusta, Georgia; and from 2004 to 2009 in Miami, 11,000 veterans received endoscopy procedures with unsterilized equipment. This put them at risk for cross-contamination, according to Military.com.

Six contracted HIV and 37 tested positive for hepatitis, leading to several lawsuits against the VA that were settled or won for awards of more than $1 million.

In 2016, the Air Force Academy notified 267 patients at the school’s medical clinic and the Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care System of the risk of infectious disease after discovering that its endoscopy equipment was improperly sterilized, reported Defense News.

The clinic placed all GI endoscopy procedures on hold pending an investigation and retrained and recertified technicians on proper cleaning techniques.

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