Reform now: VA dentist may have infected 600 vets with HIV, hepatitis

posted at 12:01 pm on December 2, 2016 by Ed Morrissey

Horrible, and entirely predictable. Veterans who had no choice of providers trooped through a Wisconsin office to get work performed by a VA-employed dentist who didn’t follow procedures. The VA never bothered to check whether he did or not, either, until someone blew the whistle on him. Now nearly 600 vets who served their country faithfully have to wait and see whether they have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis:

Nearly 600 veterans could have been infected with HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C at a Veterans Affairs facility in Tomah, Wis. because a dentist didn’t properly clean his instruments.

The Tomah VA is investigating the dentist, who has not been fired but was removed from patient care. According to acting Medical Center Director Victoria Brahm, the dentist was using his own equipment for routine dental exams, then cleaning it and using it again. This violates VA rules, which require use of disposable equipment to ensure sterility.

“It was purposeful that he was violating VA regulations,” Brahm said at a news conference Tuesday. “During all of the orientation, he used all of our equipment. He used it appropriately, so it was very purposeful from what we found in our investigation that he knew exactly what he was doing, and preferred to use his own equipment against procedure.”

As McClatchy notes, it’s not as if the Tomah facility has not had problems in the past with following procedures. Doctors there prescribe so many opioids that it has gotten the nickname “Candy Land”:

The possible infections are not the first incident at the facility that have brought scrutiny. The center has struggled through a number of scandals involving patient deaths and deaths of veterans whose family members claim they were turned away from the VA for care. In 2014, former U.S. Marine Jason Simcakoski, 35, died after taking a mixture of medications administered by doctors. The Tomah facility became nicknamed “Candy Land” because of opioid overprescription.

If the dentist purposefully violated VA procedures, why are they still paying him at all? A few people offered a defense of that on social media yesterday, saying that investigations are still ongoing and criminal charges might be forthcoming. That’s an odd defense, though; they already know the dentist purposefully violated the regulations, and that he put patients at risk. Whether or not that results in criminal charges, it’s still insubordination and professional malpractice, more than sufficient grounds for termination. It doesn’t take a prosecutor to adjudicate employment status.

The only reason he’s still drawing a paycheck at all is because of civil-service rules that force the VA to keep paying incompetents and worse, which takes resources away from the veterans they are supposed to serve. And the reason why these scandals keep erupting is because veterans are locked into a single-payer system in which they have no choice but to take whatever Tomah and other facilities offer, regardless of whether they perform due diligence on patient safety or not. There is little accountability and no incentive to provide it when the customers are captive to the bureaucracy. Until the VA gets overhauled and veterans get to choose their providers for routine care, these scandals will continue to erupt.

Pete Hegseth, who is on the shortlist for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, made this same point with Megyn Kelly last night on Fox News. Hopefully, Team Trump had the TV on last night during this segment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BnVG4dUMVA


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