Lawsuits expected after unsterilized equipment leads to cross contamination

By: August 26th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Last December the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Tennessee Health Care System located in Murfreesboro, TN, identified a problem with their endoscopy procedures. Officials at the medical center discovered that employees were sanitizing endoscopy equipment at the end of the day rather than after each patient as the manufacturer recommends.

Subsequently all VA facilities were asked to review their processes and to ensure they were in compliance with manufacturers instructions, at which point two more facilities were exposed in Augusta, GA and Miami.

All told more than 11,000 patients who had endoscopic procedures were notified they may have been exposed to cross contamination, and needed to be tested, according to the Washington Post. As of August 3, eight of those patients tested positive for HIV, 12 for hepatitis B, and 37 for hepatitis C, according to the VA.

But now the VA is likely to face more than just public backlash. Army veteran Juan Rivera went to the veterans hospital in Miami for a routine colonoscopy in May of 2008. After learning about the sterilization issues, he was tested and found out he had contracted HIV.

So last month Rivera filed a lawsuit against the VA, alleging his infection was caused by their failure to properly clean the equipment.

Rivera might not be the only one planning to take matters into court. Lawyers have said cases alleging negligence, like Rivera, will probably be more frequent. Nashville lawyer, Mike Sheppard said he is preparing to file claims on behalf of a dozen veterans who contracted hepatitis B or C, as well as 50-60 emotional distress claims, according to the Post.

The VA has promised full medical care to those infected, but they have also said there is no link between the patients infections and the endoscopy procedures.

This kind of scenario highlights the importance of following the manufacturer’s sterilization instructions for all equipment, as noted by The Joint Commission. For more guidance on sterilization procedures, click here, or visit our Tools page to download guidelines for High Level Disinfection of Endoscopes and a Sterilization Line Listing Log.


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