Almost 600 veterans who got dental care at the Tomah VA Medical Center in Wisconsin may need to be tested for exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C because the dentist who treated them failed to use sterile, disposable instruments during routine exams, as per VA rules. Victoria Brahm, the center’s acting director, explained to WEAU 13 News that the dentist, who has been removed from patient care but not fired, was trained in VA protocols but knowingly violated those rules when he used, cleaned, and reused his own dental equipment.
The breach in protocol at the facility seems to have been limited to that one practitioner, who worked at the VA facility from October 2015 through October 2016. Acting Director Brahm did not state whether the cleaning process the dentist used is regarded as inadequate for sterilizing tools for subsequent use. She did comment, however, “We have clear evidence that we are moving forward and the people that remain here are very vested and here for the mission of taking care of veterans.”
Unfortunately, our veterans hear this kind of message far too often. First, there is a serious lapse in care, followed by some bureaucratic musical chairs without any apparent consequences for the transgressors, and the episode finishes with a statement reaffirming the VA’s mission to our veterans. Longtime VA watchers will remember a similar story out of the John Cochran Division of the VA St. Louis Healthcare System in 2010. There, the failure to clean dental instruments properly led to fears that more than 1,800 veterans might have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis.
The VA has referred the case to the inspector general to assess whether criminal charges are warranted.
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