VA Hospital May Have Exposed 1,800 Vets to HIV

More than 1,800 veterans may have been exposed to several potentially deadly viruses including HIV after they received dental work at a St. Louis-area VA hospital.

On Tuesday, The John Cochran Division of the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center began sending out letters to 1,812 veterans who were treated at the facility from February 2009 to March 2010.

According to a statement from the VA, the dental equipment was sterilized – but it was “not sterilized to the exact specifications of the manufacturers guidelines.”

Although the VA concluded that the risk of “infection was extremely low,” the agency decided it was still necessary to disclose the error to patients who were treated at the medical center during that 13-month period. They are now offering free blood tests to screen for HIV as well as hepatitis B and C.

“VA leadership recognizes the seriousness of this situation and has implemented safeguards to prevent a similar situation from occurring again,” the letter said.

According to VA spokeswoman, Laurie Tranter, the problem was discovered during an inspection that took place in mid March, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides health care to more than 50,000 veterans a year.

This is not the first time a VA hospital has come under fire for medical negligence.

In November 2009, serious safety issues continued to plague a southern Illinois Veterans Affairs hospital even after major surgeries were suspended because of a spike in patient deaths.

According to a federal report, surgeons at the VA medical center in Marion, Ill., performed procedures without proper authorization, patient deaths were not assessed adequately and miscommunication between staff members persisted.

The hospital had been under intense scrutiny since 2007 when a former surgeon resigned three days after a patient bled to death following gall bladder surgery. All inpatient surgeries were suspended within a month.

In August 2009, it was uncovered that six more cancer patients were being given incorrect radiation doses at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, bringing the total to 98 veterans who were given the wrong treatment over a six-year period.

The errors happened in a common surgical procedure used to treat prostate cancer.

And earlier in 2009, the VA warned more than 10,000 veterans to get blood tests because they could have been exposed to contamination while getting colonoscopies in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Miami.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.