Senator John F. Kerry this afternoon urged the inspector general at the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate sanitation standards at VA hospitals, following reports this week that facilities in Florida and Tennessee rinsed, but did not disinfect equipment used in colonoscopies.
As many as 9,000 patients may have had invasive procedures with contaminated equipment, potentially exposing them to infectious diseases including hepatitis.
“The Veterans Administration has inherited a tragic situation, and a full review is needed so we can find out how this happened, correct the situation, and make sure it never happens again,” Kerry said in a statement. “The Obama Administration has already been a breath of fresh air. They’ve taken responsibility. But it’s our job in Congress to make sure we’re doing our part to meet the needs of veterans and cooperation is essential to fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to increasing the quality and delivery of care in our nation’s veterans hospitals. Every veteran in this country should be confident in the care they are given so these brave men and women can focus on their families and their futures. I never want any veteran to fear for their care when they go in for tests at the hospitals we built to serve them.”
His letter is below:
Dear Inspector General Opfer:
I applaud the selection of General Shinseki as Secretary, and I am encouraged already that President Obama has proposed a budget for healthcare in the Department of Veterans Affairs that will expand the eligibility of services to thousands of previously unqualified veterans.
Still, we know that the quality of care for our veterans is not yet at the high standard President Obama has set, in large measure due to problems the Administration has inherited. I am particularly alarmed by the recent reports regarding the use of unsterile medical equipment at VA facilities.
Recent reports indicated that up to 3,000 patients at a VA hospital in Miami, Florida may have had colonoscopies with equipment that was not properly sterilized and that a VA facility in Tennessee did not utilize properly sterilized equipment when performing this same procedure and may have exposed upwards of 6,000 patients to a variety of infectious diseases, some of whom have now claimed to be infected with Hepatitis C.
The timing and extent of these two exposures are troubling to me. The second exposure in Miami, Florida leads me to believe that proper steps may not have been taken in light of the incident in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Accordingly, I ask that the Office of Inspector General conduct a thorough review of this matter. The review, at a minimum should address the following critical questions: What actions did the Department of Veterans Affairs take when the VA learned that patients at the Murfreesboro, Tennessee facility may have been exposed; exactly how many other facilities in the VA healthcare system conduct colonoscopies; and what steps are being taken to ensure that veteran’s are not exposed to this level of risk in the future.
We all agree that care and commitment to our nation’s veterans must be our top priority, and that they deserve better than this. As you do, I understand well the importance of ensuring that they have faith in the VA healthcare system. In order to maintain that faith it is of the utmost importance that a quick and thorough review be conducted.
Thank you for your serious consideration of this request and I look forward to hearing back from you regarding this matter.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.