January 5, 2015 — An investigation by MSNBC has found that many malpractice claims were denied after outbreaks of infection linked to colonoscopies at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.
One of the largest outbreaks occurred in 2009. Nearly 6,400 veterans who had colonoscopies between April 23, 2003 and December 1, 2008 at Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee were notified that they may have been exposed to life-threatening infections.
The exposures were linked to a missing one-way valve that allowed patients’ bodily fluids to flow backward into the water tube, which was not disinfected or discarded between uses as the manufacturer recommends.
After the outbreak, the VA inspector general conducted a broader investigation. Sixteen facilities were found to have deficiencies in colonoscopy cleaning techniques. In one case, 3,260 veterans who had colonoscopies at Bruce W. Carter Medical Center in Miami were warned that they may have been exposed.
The VA offered to test everyone who was exposed. Unfortunately, 92 tested positive for infections like Hepatitis C, B, and HIV. The hospitals were hit with malpractice claims from 76 veterans, including 21 who were infected.
The VA denied most claims, including every lawsuit that was filed in Tennessee. In Florida, at least two claims were awarded damages — one for $1 million to a veteran who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and another for an undisclosed settlement.
The FDA has warned hospitals about the importance of thoroughly disinfecting endoscopes, which are long flexible tubes used in colonoscopies. Cleaning endoscopes is a labor intensive, difficult process that involves physical scrubbing and a long soak in powerful disinfectant.