- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Veterans Affairs medical center in Connecticut risked harm to both patients and employees by exposing them to infectious diseases and unsanitary conditions, according to a new report.

The hospital in West Haven, Conn., often did not clean the operating room at the end of the work day and didn’t take special precautions around patients with infectious diseases, exposing others to the pathogens, said a report released Tuesday by the VA’s internal watchdog, the Inspector General.

Despite the unsafe conditions, the IG said they found no evidence that diseases were actually ever transmitted, and said that the hospital has almost fixed the problems they found.

“We initially found that safeguards were inadequate for ensuring patient and employee safety when infectious patients who may require isolation precautions were scheduled for OR procedures concurrently with noninfectious patients,” investigators said. “However, by the time of our hotline site visit, the facility had made improvements and was in the final process of updating policies and procedures.”

The IG found during their investigation that patients suffering from infectious diseases were often not given special precautions, and that staff did not take action to protect themselves or other patients from the diseases. Instead, infectious people were often scheduled for surgery along with non-infected people, increasing the risk of exposure. And patients who should have been isolated to prevent transmission of diseases instead were often taken to heavily frequented areas.

Meanwhile, staff would come into the operating room in the morning, finding that overnight some of the furniture and equipment hadn’t been cleaned and that “smaller equipment items, such as oxygen tanks and electrical cords or tubing, would be on the floor from the final procedure of the previous day,” the IG said. “Also, trash was not emptied, and restrooms were not clean.”

Investigators noted that the OR cleaning is usually the responsibility of the evening shift, but that the hospital has been short-handed, with only two instead of the normal three people assigned to work.

But the IG also blamed leadership, saying “some were unclear regarding the frequency of OR cleaning procedures and could not provide specifics as to how they trained and evaluated their subordinates.”

One official told the IG he wasn’t properly trained for his assignment, and had sought guidance from the nursing staff on what to do.

The medical center said it is working to fix the problems, and expects to have everything corrected by the middle of March. More people have been hired, new instructions have been ordered, and better cleaning requirements are being followed, officials said.

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