A few days ago I wrote about dirty dental equipment at a St. Louis VA hospital that has led to the HIV and Hepatitis B and C infections of thousands of veterans. Immediately after the VA sent out letters warning those that were potentially infected, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs called a special hearing in St. Louis. During that hearing a former medical supply technician at the hospital told congressional members that she had warned more than a year before the infections were discovered that the dental equipment sterilization procedures were inadequate. Nevertheless, VA officials apparently ignored her pleas.
Earlene Johnson had worked at other VA hospitals and went to work at the St. Louis VA hospital in December 2008 in the sterilization division. Although she did not work directly in the dental division, she still witnessed flaws in the sterilization of the dental equipment and tried to warn VA officials in March 2009. However, no one listened and it was a full year later before officials notified veterans about the sterilization problem and urged them to get blood tests to check for HIV or Hepatitis B and C infection. Meanwhile, Johnson was fired—a move she believes is directly attributable to her blowing the whistle on the bad sterilization practices of the St. Louis VA hospital.
The VA did, indeed, “discover” the lapses in dental equipment sterilization in March 2010. Subsequently, dental services chief Danny L. Turner was put on administrative leave. An internal investigation is planned in addition to the congressional inquiry. Thus far Dr. George Arana of the Veterans Health Administration said 950 veterans have come in for free blood screenings so far, and some have tested positive for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. However, he would not say specifically how many have tested positive, nor what viruses they had and that the VA could not reach definitive conclusions before conducting more tests.