Cochran VA hasn’t solved dental issues

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis continues to have problems with cleanliness in its dental clinic, two years after the hospital notified more than 1,800 veterans that it may have exposed them to HIV, hepatitis and other viruses.

Investigators at the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found during an inspection in January that surgical implants had not been sterilized for the mandated 48 hours and medical supply rooms were not always kept at the correct humidity levels.

Also, test results for potential contamination on sterilizing machines had not been recorded correctly and inspectors’ shoe booties were dirty after walking through the supply rooms, among other problems, according to the report.

In 2010, inspectors said veterans might have been exposed to diseases after an inspection turned up visibly dirty instruments. Four veterans tested positive for hepatitis but it is still unknown whether their exposure was linked to the dental clinic.

In a federal report from March 2011, inspectors made three recommendations to the Cochran staff to improve sterilization procedures and training. Two of the three recommendations were not completed, and another has been added, according to the new report issued Thursday.

The original recommendations the hospital keep its equipment clean and staff trained will stay open for further review. The hospital met a recommendation it take appropriate disciplinary action, although details were not disclosed. The new recommendation involves ongoing in-house monitoring of sterilization areas.

No veteran has been harmed by care received at Cochran, spokeswoman Marcena Gunter said in a statement. And the St. Louis VA recently hired a head of sterile processing to lead efforts to recruit and train of employees, she said.

In February 2011, the hospital closed its operating rooms after rust stains were discovered on surgical equipment. The operating rooms reopened after a month of testing, cleaning and replacing of faulty equipment.

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