Federal Eye: Report: VA Facilities Improperly Sterilized Colonoscopy Equipment

An internal investigation out today finds that fewer than half of Veteran’s Affairs facilities selected for random inspections had properly sterilized medical equipment used to perform colonoscopies, despite orders to comply with safety guidelines.

The Veterans Affairs inspector general report(pdf) follows revelations that VA hospitals in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee possibly exposed 10,320 veterans to hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV by not properly cleaning equipment. As of today, 13 of those veterans have tested positive for hepatitis B, 34 for hepatitis C and six for HIV, according to the VA.

The investigation focused on the sterilization of reusable flexible fiberoptic endoscopes (FFEs), which must be thoroughly rinsed and flushed after use and then stored in a dry, well-ventilated area. Any deviation from the sterilization process puts future patients at risk of infection, according to the report.

VA investigators visited the three medical facilities and made random, unannounced visits to 42 other medical centers in recent months to evaluate procedures.

“The failure of medical facilities to comply on such a large scale with repeated alerts and directives suggests fundamental defects in organizational structure,” the report concludes.

Investigators unveiled their findings this morning at a House Veterans’ Affairs committee hearing on the matter, where lawmakers sharply criticized the department.

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