ST. LOUIS (AP) -- No timetable has been set for resuming surgeries at the Cochrane VA Medical Center in St. Louis, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan said Thursday following a meeting with the secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The St. Louis Democrat, a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said he asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki for a top-to-bottom review of the St. Louis hospital.
"In my years in public service, this is one of the issues that has made me madder than anything I've ever seen," Carnahan said in a telephone conference call with reporters.
Surgeries at Cochrane have been on hold since Feb. 2 after potentially contaminated surgical equipment was discovered. Last year, faulty sterilization at the center's dental clinic raised concerns that 1,812 veterans were potentially exposed to hepatitis and HIV.
Shinseki, in a statement, called the meeting "productive," and called the sterilization problem at Cochrane an "isolated incident."
"We must not lose sight of the fact that a VA employee had the integrity and courage to identify the problem during a routine exam and notified supervisors," Shinseki said. "This was the responsible and right decision to assure that no veterans were put at risk."
Sterilization problems have arisen at other VA medical facilities across the country.
Officials at the Dayton, Ohio, VA Medical Center announced Tuesday that more than 500 veterans will be offered HIV screenings to determine if they were infected by a dentist who for 18 years failed to consistently follow the infection control standard of changing latex gloves between patients. Officials said there was no indication any patients had been infected.
In 2009, the VA said 10,000 veterans treated at its hospitals in Miami, Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga., were potentially exposed to HIV and hepatitis, also because of faulty sterilization of equipment used for colonoscopies and other procedures.
Carnahan said mediocrity "thrives" at the St. Louis hospital.
"That's not good enough for our veterans," Carnahan said. "It's not what they deserve."
A private sector watchdog group called The Joint Commission was inspecting the hospital Thursday.
The VA said surgeries scheduled for Cochrane have been moved to other St. Louis hospitals, with the VA paying the cost.
All but a few dozen of the veterans treated with improperly sterilized equipment in the St. Louis dental clinic have been tested or refused testing. Three veterans tested positive for hepatitis, but officials don't know how they were infected and none of the cases have been tied to the sterilization problems. A fourth also tested positive for hepatitis, but the VA said that person's infection occurred from another source.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)