Unsterilized VA dental tools expose veterans to infection risk

Around 600 veterans were told they may have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV while receiving dental care at the Tomah VA Medical Center in Wisconsin.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials, a VA dentist at the facility failed to properly sterilize his equipment. He re-used his own dental tools instead of following VA regulations by using disinfected, disposable equipment. The issue was brought to light when an assistant reported the breach in protocol, which occurred over a span of a year.

In letters mailed to 592 veterans, the medical center notified them of the possibility of hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV infections. The VA is providing free screenings and follow-up treatment for veterans who test positive for the viruses. The agency claimed its decision to contact the veterans was simply a precaution as the risk of contracting an infection from the unsterilized equipment was low.

The VA released a statement saying it aimed to “ensure that those responsible for this serious breach of patient trust are held accountable.” There have been calls for the dentist to be fired. However, the VA has not taken any such action so far. The dentist was moved to an administrative role where he will not see patients. He is expected to appear before a review board.

“Failure to follow established infection control procedures is not acceptable, and we take the safety of our patients seriously,” said Tomah VA medical center director Victoria Brahm.

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