The Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Tomah, Wis, is notifying 592 veterans that they are eligible to obtain free screenings for possible infections due to lapses in established infection control procedures that occurred in the dental clinic there with a single provider from October 2015 through October 2016. That provider has since resigned from the VA.
The infection risk is low and is limited to patients of a single physician. The VA is contacting potentially affected patients by phone and mail to explain the situation. Screenings for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV will be offered at no cost to these patients. Should an affected patient test positive, the VA will provide necessary care and treatment free of charge.
“There is no higher mission at the Tomah VA than ensuring all veterans and healthcare professionals are safe. Failure to follow established infection control procedures is not acceptable, and we take the safety or our patients seriously,” said Victoria Brahm, acting medical center director of the Tomah VA.
According to the Tomah VA, the dentist used privately owned burrs, which is contrary to VA dental regulations stating that dentists must use single-use disposable burrs and that they are not allowed to use privately owned dental equipment on patients. Also, the steps that the dentist said he was taking to sterilize these burrs were not within the manufacturer’s recommendations nor in line with ADA recommended procedures.
“We are deeply sorry for the concern this has caused veterans and their families. The Tomah VA and all VA facilities are committed to transparency and to providing excellent care for the veterans we are honored to serve,” said Brahm.
Dental patients who may have been affected can call (888) 598-7793 for more information. The Tomah VA Medical Center emphasizes that screenings are strictly precautionary, and there is no indication that any patients have contracted an infection. Since November 29, the center has received more than 200 calls. And since November 30, it has seen 64 veterans for testing.
The dentist, whom the VA has not named, was immediately removed from the practice upon discovery of the infection risks. A Summary Review Board was established to determine the dentist’s separation from federal service, but the dentist resigned from the Tomah VA Medical Center a day before it was going to be held.
“The law states that employees subject to a Summary Review Board must be given 10 to 14 calendar days notice in writing that the board will be conducted. We provided the required notice that the Summary Review Board was scheduled for Monday, December 5. However, the dentist chose to resign, effective immediately,” said Brahm.
“Although we cannot prevent the dentist from resigning while administrative actions are pending, we are continuing reporting procedures to the State Licensing Board and the National Practitioner Data Bank,” said Brahm. “We will not stop doing all we can to ensure those responsible for this serious breach of patient trust are held accountable.”