By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The federal government has closed its investigation of the Veterans Administration hospital in St. Louis, citing "vast improvements" in its sterilization procedures.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General issued the report Wednesday, more than two years after sterilization concerns were first raised at the John Cochran VA Medical Center.
The new report said that while minor concerns persist, the investigation is closed.
"The facility has made vast improvements in its reusable medical equipment-related policies and practices over the past 6 months and the central issue of patient safety during dental procedures has been addressed," the report's executive summary said.
In 2010, faulty sterilization at the center's dental clinic raised concerns that 1,812 veterans were potentially exposed to hepatitis and HIV. Subsequent testing found no link to hepatitis or HIV in patients.
Another cleanliness concern arose in February 2011 when the hospital shut down its operating rooms because rust stains were found on surgical equipment. Surgeries resumed several months later after the faulty equipment was cleaned or replaced. Investigators found that staff members had not received adequate sterilization training.
Investigators came to the hospital in January but found that sterilization technique problems persisted. Among the problems: Contamination tests were not recorded; floors were dirty; surgical implants were not sterilized for the required 48 hours.
That prompted the follow-up investigation in July that was reported on Wednesday. That report cited the hospital's new $7 million sterile processing lab that opened in May, the hiring of four additional staff members and plans to add four more in the medical equipment and sterilization department.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., lauded the VA center for its improvements.
"Our military veterans stood up to protect our freedoms, and they've earned the best health care we can provide," McCaskill said in a statement.