VA Hospital Admits Vets May Have Been Infected With HIV, Hepatitis

VA hospital
VA hospital / AP
December 1, 2016

Hundreds of patients at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Wisconsin may have been infected with HIV or other diseases as a result of prohibited practices by one of its providers.

According to the local WEAU Newsa dentist at the Tomah VA Medical Center used, cleaned, and then reused his equipment when treating patients, in violation of agency infection control rules that require providers to use sterile and disposable equipment.

The practice may have resulted in nearly 600 veterans being infected with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV, VA administrators revealed on Tuesday afternoon. The hospital is currently notifying the 592 patients who may have been affected between October 2015 and October 2016 when the dentist used this practice.

The dentist has since been removed from patient care and is serving in an administrative position, and the VA has referred the matter to the agency's inspector general for criminal examination. An individual substituting for the dentist's assistant witnessed his behavior and notified managers.

Victoria Brahm, the acting director of the medical center, said Tuesday that the employee was "purposefully" violating VA regulations.

"It was purposeful that he was violating VA regulations," she said. "During all of the orientation, he used all of our equipment. He used it appropriately, so it was very purposeful from what we found in our investigation that he knew exactly what he was doing, and preferred to use his own equipment against procedure."

"We have clear evidence that we are moving forward and the people that remain here are very vested and here for the mission of taking care of veterans," Brahm continued. "There are pockets of improvement that need to occur they still need to I'll be honest, and we are aware of where they are and we are dealing with them as quickly as we can."

The hospital plans to offer free screenings to veterans who were possibly affected and will provide free care to those who test positive for disease.

The Tomah VA has previously been cited for overprescribing opiates to patients. Last year, the VA inspector general confirmed that care deficiencies at the facility contributed to the death of a veteran from mixed drug toxicity.

The federal agency has been consistently criticized over reports of poor care, misconduct, and backlogs at its hospitals, despite reforms implemented in 2014 after veterans were found to have died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA. An independent assessment released in September 2015 concluded that the VA's network of hospitals needs systematic reworking.

The latest report comes as President-elect Donald Trump is in the process of announcing appointments to his cabinet. Trump is rumored to be considering former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, and Army veteran Pete Hegseth, the former president of Concerned Veterans for America, for the position of VA secretary.