Patients deserve answers

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Augusta has long held a proud place in the medical treatment of U.S. military personnel.

To help uphold that pride, the government should work vigorously to find out what -- if anything -- went wrong locally in the treatment of sick soldiers.

Starting in February, the Department of Veterans Affairs began notifying more than 11,000 people treated at three VA medical centers -- including one in Augusta -- to get blood checks, because they might have been exposed to infectious bodily fluids.

At last report, "unverified positive tests" by the VA have found one case of hepatitis B, one case of HIV and five cases of hepatitis C among those tested who received treatment at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. Apparently, scopes used for looking into patients' noses and throats weren't properly cleaned.

Dr. Jim Bagian, the VA's chief patient safety officer, came off poorly in recent comments to the press. With the possibility raised that thousands of patients could have been exposed to infection at VA facilities, his response essentially was: Prove it.

He said that the patients won't be able to prove that they were exposed to improperly sterilized endoscopic equipment. "At this point I don't think we'll ever know" how the people became infected, Bagian said.

You know what? That's the wrong answer.

Here's what should've been issued by Bagian:

"It has been our honored mission to give the best, most attentive care possible to the brave men and women who have defended our country. If there is even the slightest chance that members of our military have become infected from exposure to incorrectly used or undercleaned equipment at VA facilities, every measure will be taken to track down the possible sources of those infections to help ensure that such unfortunate incidents never happen again."

Though the patients tested positive for viruses, it's true that they could have had the viruses for years before they sought VA treatment. Still, the VA mustn't give the impression of distancing itself from the problem.

The VA has said that they will care for all infected veterans for life. That's certainly commendable, though that's what the VA is supposed to be doing anyway.

But the goal here isn't to lob blame at medical personnel and heap scorn on them. It's above and beyond that. The greater goal is to maintain the sterling treatment facilities that our ailing warriors deserve.

And to do that, the VA must help produce answers.

The U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs has penciled in a June hearing date for the VA inspector general to report a review of any mistakes. Let's hope it yields answers and solutions.

Comments (8) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 05/18/09 - 03:33 am
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I agree the PR could have

I agree the PR could have been handled better, but Bagian is essentially correct. If you take any population of 11,000 it is likely you would come up with those few illnesses found. The VA has strict guidelines for monitoriing and reporting problems. The scopes were apparently cleaned with an improper solution that did not eradicate all pathogens. I'll bet you things like that happen all over the country in other hospitals and doctors' offices all the time, yet go unreported. Any problems at the VA are quickly made public as it should be with all treatment facilities. If you want something investigated, investigate why other facilities don't report problems.

justus4
132
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justus4 05/18/09 - 04:07 am
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This is a leadership failure.
Unpublished

This is a leadership failure. The hospital commander should be given a pink slip and the personnel with direct responsibility for those errors should be terminated also. They are a danger to our veterans and violated their Oath of Office in failing to pay attention to detail and not properly sterilize medical instruments. (and who knows whatever else they've failed to complete) Their actions put thousands of veterans in danger and deserve serious consequences. But of course, there will be excuses, employees given slaps on the wrist because of nepotism, managers moved to easier jobs, etc, and careers protected. And the safety officer has gotta go 'cause his statement was reckless and uncaring. This guy needs to be in the private sector where he can say such stupid things.

patriciathomas
44
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patriciathomas 05/18/09 - 04:33 am
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We live in a era of advanced

We live in a era of advanced communication. The handling of the PR is everything.

shivas
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shivas 05/18/09 - 05:54 am
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The AC intentionally

The AC intentionally interprets his statements in the most negative manner it can make-up. Riverman has said it all. Patriciathomas, you have very well stated the right-wing position: PR is everything, results are an afterthought.

TechLover
15
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TechLover 05/18/09 - 05:56 am
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What were the results from

What were the results from Evans Surgical Center?

disssman
6
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disssman 05/18/09 - 09:43 am
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Not to worry, the AMA will

Not to worry, the AMA will eventually correct the problem. But, don't count on them doing anything to hurt the career of an incompetent doctor.

Fiat_Lux
21795
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Fiat_Lux 05/18/09 - 10:54 am
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DISSMAN, the doctors were not

DISSMAN, the doctors were not the ones responsible for sterilizing the probes used in these procedures. The manufacturing company, consulting with medical specialists in this area, create the protocol and write down the sterilization instructions, which allied health employees then follow (or don't), employees like surgical techs or echo techs or nurses. The protocol and the log of sterilizations is monitored by hospital administrative-types, who make sure everything done is in compliance with JCAHO accreditation requirements, even exceeding those standards in many instances. Your class hatred is a little to near the surface, Dude. Be good to dial it back a little.

jack
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jack 05/18/09 - 10:57 am
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And you lefties want the

And you lefties want the gu'munt to control health care in this country? Yeah, right. Such as this is the very reason I DON'T go to the VA. Another reason is you can't find a doctor named Smith or Jones there, either.

Fiat_Lux
21795
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Fiat_Lux 05/18/09 - 11:04 am
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The truth is, these patients

The truth is, these patients could have had their viruses way before they had their procedures. Sterilization protocols are designed as complete overkill, and done even half-way will still assure that all the bugs are dead. Hospitals don't regularly screen for all these bugs prior to these minor procedures unless there is an obvious reason for it. I haven't read anywhere that there has been a statistical up-tick in VA patients with these diseases that relates to endoscopies. There really is no way to know for sure who deserves to be sued, if anyone. Sad as this truth is, some people are losers in life's lottery. It's not unusual to look for the deepest pockets possible afterwards.

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