Missouri’s members of Congress say there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered in the incident at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis. Almost 2,000 veterans may have been exposed to blood-borne diseases including Hepatitis B and C and HIV due to a problem in the procedure used for cleaning dental equipment.
“Rep. (Blaine) Luetkemeyer and I both serve on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is the chief investigative committee in the US House. So what we’re asking for is a top to bottom review of sanitation and sterilization procedures at the St. Louis, and across all the other facilities,” said Rep. Lacy Clay, of the St. Louis area.
Congressman Russ Carnahan tells reporters on a conference call that some of the repercussions are already starting.
“I’ve heard that the person that was the head of the dental clinic was put on administrative leave. One of the former employees that worked in the lab has also come forward and shared concerns that she had, and some documentation that she’s had from this process from months ago,” Carnahan said.
Reports say that employee may have brought the issue to a supervisor’s attention as far back as August of 2009. The VA officially identified the procedure as a problem in March of 2010. Clay the veterans weren’t notified until this week.
“We need to investigate who knew about the problems in St. Louis. Why did it take so long to make the potential contamination threat public, and were warnings from former employees ignored?” Clay said.
“If there was either mismanagement or a cover up involved in this, absolutely I think that’s something that should happen, head should roll. That’s just not acceptable,” Carnahan said.
The 1,812 veterans who may have been exposed received letters notifying them of the possible risk, and advising them to be tested for those blood-borne diseases. No infections have been reported yet.
“According to the VA, the risk potential is very low that anyone was contaminated, But we don’t want to take a chance and have someone not go and get tested,” Clay said.
Carnahan has also announced a public hearing in St. Louis July 13 on the issue, at a time and place to be set later. He says U.S. House Veterans Committee Chairman Bob Filner has committed to attending the hearing, which will focus on the specific threat to the veterans, but also look at larger issues in the VA system.
“The other, chilling impact of this is the confidence that other veterans have in the services of the VA. So to the extent that we have a transparent and thorough and prompt investigation to understand what happened to the extent that changes are made in the specific process and management as needed. Only then, I think, can the VA build back the confidence that is needed,” Carnahan said.