All surgeries have been cancelled for the time being at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis after unclean surgical equipment was found during a regular inspection. St. Louis-area Congressman Russ Carnahan is calling for a top-to-bottom review of the facility, which has had its problems in the past.

“This all started with a problem with instruments not being properly sanitized in their dental clinic. We’ve heard from many Veterans that use services there; we’ve heard from many employees that work there with ongoing issues. There are several pending investigations to get to the bottom of the problems there,” Carnahan said.

Last year there was the announcement that as many as 1,800 veterans may have been exposed to HIV and Hepatitis at John Cochran.

“It is part of a systemic problem that we’ve heard about at Cochran for way too long. They are rated among the lowest in the country in the VA medical system in terms of patient satisfaction scores,” Carnahan said.

He thinks they’ll have to force change amongst the management there.

“There’s a much larger problem here that the VA has not gotten on top of, and that’s why we have to have this top-to-bottom review.  A piecemeal approach is not going to cut it here,” Carnahan said.

He says his office has heard from numerous veterans about issues at the hospital on a consistent basis, and from employees; at least the ones willing to become whistleblowers.

“They need to change the culture. They need to be rewarding employees who have been coming forward with concerns or ideas of how to fix things; not trying to close them out or even worse that there be retribution or impact on their careers,” Carnahan said.

Carnahan says the results of the pending investigations at Cochran will be key to the future success of the facility.

“We are hoping by… we’ve been told not later than springtime… that we’re going to have many of these investigations concluded and that we’ll be able to be in a position to try and implement some of the recommendations and findings that come out of those,” Carnahan said.

The VA Medical Center says the surgeries were cancelled after the routine inspection found spots on surgical instrument trays and water stains on at least one surgical instrument. They say the concerns were caught before any patients were operated on.

For the time being, urgent surgeries will be performed at other area hospitals. About 3 dozen patients have been affected.

AUDIO: Interview with Congressman Russ Carnahan [5 min MP3]