After willfully failing to follow proper infection control procedures over the course of a year, a dentist who provided care to hundreds of veterans at Wisconsin’s Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center has put those he treated at potential risk for developing HIV and Hepatitis B and C. This latest development follows the center’s already tarnished reputation, having previously been accused of over-prescribing medications while maintaining a negative atmosphere for both employees and veterans alike.
Though experts believe the risk of developing the diseases remains low, the VA is still alerting and encouraging those who received treatment from the dentist, whose name has been withheld from the press but provided to the veterans he treated, to come in for free screenings as a safety precaution. Of the 592 patients he came in contact with, only 54 were exposed to the instruments, which Tomah’s Acting Medical Director Victoria Brahm stated was intentional on the dentist’s part.
The instruments were used during bridge and crown procedures, which the VA requires disposable equipment for. Despite cleaning the tools in between procedures, the dentist used his own personal equipment; something he was aware was an unacceptable protocol, as set forth by the center. Brahm said the dental professional had been hired last year, having gone through a mandatory 90-day observation period that he passed. As such, Brahm said he “was fully aware of the rules and regulations of VA and fully aware of how to use those instrumentations. So this was a purposeful act.” She also indicated the matter has been reported to the state’s licensing board and criminal charges are currently being considered by the VA’s Office of Inspector General.
The problem was reported by a dental assistant who was not part of the dentist’s regular staff and was instead filling in for one of them. Brahm said, “He had a replacement dental assistant, and she noted this particular piece of instrument being used. She reported it the next day, Oct. 20, to the dental chief who reported it to senior leadership. We took action Oct. 21.” The VA is also looking into why his regular personal assistant did not report the issue prior, despite knowing he was in violation of VA policy.
As mentioned above, this isn’t the first troublesome issue the center has faced, though Brahm is hoping to change that by removing all employees, including the dentist, who put veterans’ health or safety at risk in any way. She hopes to build a welcoming community, stating publicly she is seeing signs that the changes being made are having a positive effect. She said, “There was a culture issue here, one of non-psychological safety, one of opioid abuse. Those things are changing,” adding, “Unfortunately, this happened, this isn’t going to be tolerated either.”
Thankfully, there have been no reports of anyone having developed any infections thus far, though it can’t be denied how truly troubling this story is, particularly in consideration of the veterans who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice by serving their country to ensure our freedom, which includes the right to compassionate and quality healthcare for all.