Inspector: Ohio VA failed at infection policies

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Dayton failed to follow infection control policies, and procedures were violated by a dentist accused of failing for years to sterilize equipment and change gloves between patients, according to a Monday report from the VA inspector general’s office.

The report, based on a December review at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, follows the allegations being levied at the dentist last year by fellow employees. It says that dental managers knew about infractions but didn’t respond appropriately and that required annual training on infection control had not been completed by many hospital employees.

Employees said dental instruments weren’t properly cleaned between patients, sterilization was skipped even if instruments were used on dentures with blood and the dentist at times answered his cell phone or drank coffee with his gloves on, the report says. Employees told investigators a supervisor had been notified but didn’t respond.

The inspector general’s office recommends that hospital superiors address inadequate staffing issues and ensure policies are followed. It says an acceptable plan has been submitted by medical center directors.

The hospital said in a statement it agrees with the findings and staff has set a June deadline to complete recommendations. The center in February offered free testing for infections to 535 patients who underwent invasive procedures from January 1992 to July 2010, and three have tested positive for new cases of liver disease. It has not released the name of the dentist, who retired in February.

“The report confirms the known information from previous investigations, and it will allow the staff ... to continue moving forward with their service to our Veterans,” Acting Medical Center Director William Montague said in a statement.

Montague, an experienced VA hospital director, came out of retirement to step in when the previous director was reassigned earlier this year.

The report came a day before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs planned to hold a hearing on the matter. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Dayton, have been pressing for information since the allegations against the dentist were disclosed.

Brown requested the report, and the inspector general will testify on its findings at the hearing, Brown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak said. The senator’s goals are to find patients who were exposed, prevent violations in the future and hold those responsible accountable, she said.

Turner said in a statement Monday that the report shows failed leadership at the medical center but is limited because it includes only information from those still employed at the hospital and that “those who should be held accountable, including the dentist in question and hospital leadership, have escaped scrutiny by simply retiring.”

“In total, this report paints the picture of a system broken from the ground up,” he said. “The culture at the VA needs to be changed to promote accountability for actions on the part of staff. Our veterans deserve better.”

The hospital said the report confirms that officials acted immediately and with concern for patient safety after receiving notification of the allegations.

Of the veterans contacted, 507 have been tested. Two patients tested positive for new cases of hepatitis B, and one has tested positive for hepatitis C. The hospital said it can’t determine the source of the infections and the VA is providing care.

A task force last week called for broader testing.

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