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After Giving Patients HIV, VA Hospitals Still Have Inadequate Safety Procedures in Place

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Since April, we’ve been letting people know about the medical errors at VA hospitals that have caused at least five patients to contract HIV from contaminated endoscopic equipment. Beginning June 16, a Congressional panel will investigate exactly how such egregious errors could have been allowed to occur.

Very upsetting news has just come in that during a surprise inspection last month, fewer than half of Veterans Affairs centers were found to have safe and appropriate training and guidelines in place for employees to perform routine endoscopic procedures such as colonoscopies. That is to say that even after the agency learned that the lack of such training and guidelines was precisely what had caused its patients to contract HIV and other infections at its hospitals, it did not take significant steps to correct the problems.

The findings, from the VA’s inspector general and obtained by The Associated Press, suggest that errors in colonoscopies and other minimally invasive procedures performed at VA facilities may be more widespread than initially believed.

Howard McIntyre, commander at one of two Disabled American Veterans chapters in Augusta, Ga., called the findings "disturbing" and said "there shouldn’t have been any low level of training at all."

"As soon as it was caught, the training should have been stepped up instantly," the 67-year-old Navy veteran said. Medical care for veterans, he said, "shouldn’t be any less than perfect, because these are lives we’re talking about." -AP

The surprise inspections, conducted May 13-14 at 42 different VA hospitals across the country, found that only 43 percent of them had standard operating procedures and proper training for staff to safely use endoscopic equipment.

So far, six veterans, all patients of VA hospitals, have tested positive for HIV in check-ups that followed the discovery of contaminated VA equipment. Thirty four have tested positive for hepatitis C and 13 have tested positive for hepatitis B. While some of these infections may not be unrelated to VA hospital conditions, the VA has acknowledged that employee errors were responsible for their unsanitary equipment.

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