33 vets missed in alert

VA informs patients of possible exposure

Thirty-three veterans were overlooked last year when the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in downtown Augusta alerted its patients about possible exposure to infectious bodily fluids.

Officials began contacting those patients on Wednesday so that they can be tested, said Ellen Harbeson, chief of quality management at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

The 33 patients are among the thousands who were possibly treated with improperly cleaned equipment at VA hospitals in Miami, Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Augusta. About 50 patients among the three hospitals tested positive for infections, including eight cases of HIV.

In late May, a patient at the Miami hospital told officials there that he believed he had been overlooked. A review of records showed that he was correct, and Miami officials contacted another 78 individuals who had not been tested for possible exposure. There were no patients missed in Tennessee.

Officials in Augusta began their review two weeks ago and discovered the 33 patients who had been overlooked.

The first investigation in 2009 focused exclusively on patients treated at the ear, nose and throat clinic. What it failed to include were patients treated outside the clinic with possibly contaminated equipment, Harbeson explained.

For instance, a doctor might have used a scope from the clinic to treat someone who came in for treatment at the VA's emergency room.

"The original data pulls would not have included those patients from a variety of settings other than the ENT clinic," Harbeson said.

Harbeson said the affected patients are from "all over" the area and only a "few" are local. Hospital Director Rebecca Wiley told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the risk for infection is low.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

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