There have been a number of published reports this year about staff several VA hospitals using unsterilized equipment and exposing their patients to infectious diseases.
The most recent occurred at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis. Tuesday, the hospital sent out letters to 1,800 veterans who had been treated recently for dental work, and said that the patients may have come in contact with HIV or hepatitis B and C because of instruments that were not cleaned properly.
Congressman Russ Carnahan is launching a federal investigation into this matter. In the meantime the hospital has set up clinics and education centers to help patients who could have potentially been infected.
To hear of such negligent acts coming from a VA hospital is totally unconscionable and should never be tolerated. In the past couple of years, we have heard about malicious health care personnel who ― for some reason or another ― have purposely infected patients or administered medication inappropriately, but a case where a health care facility and/or health care personnel fails to have good infection control, the potential to harm hundreds of innocent victims is overwhelming.
If nothing else, what medical history has taught us, is that hospitals infections are on the rise. For the last five years, massive education coming from federal health agencies have mandated that doctors, nurses, and technical personnel that work in a hospital understand and follow good infection control policies so that patients will not be exposed to dangerous diseases.
Many hospitals are doing a good job, but clearly, from what we can learn of these recent reports – a lot of work needs to be done.
It is particularly upsetting to me because VA hospitals should represent the best health care available – especially because their purpose is to provide services to our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so much.
So let us hope that this is a wake-up call to the Obama administration to beef up the quality and the prestige of our federally-funded health services.
Now, let me give you some tips on how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of poor infection control in the hospital:
Demand that all health care personnel wash their hands in front of you before they render any physical service;
Demand that all health care personnel wear NEW gloves before drawing any blood;
Make sure your health care provider opens new needles from new packaging in your presence;
If any injectable medication is to be administered, it must come from a new bottle;
If you do not feel comfortable in your current setting, ask to speak to the infection control officer at your health facility. It is your right.
Like I always say: It’s my hope that some day all health care facilities will provide the best care available, but it seems that in the meantime, we all need to be on the alert.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.