An Air Force veteran has headed to court in what might potentially be the first of hundreds of medical malpractice cases against VA Hospitals. The man filed a $30 million medical malpractice lawsuit contending that he contracted Hepatitis C from tainted equipment used during a colonoscopy at a Miami VA Hospital.
In early 2009, the VA issued a patient safety alert to every VA medical center warning of possible contamination problems with colonoscopy equipment based on reported problems in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The latter had discovered that equipment was not being properly cleaned at the end of each procedure, rather only at the end of each day. Problems were later discovered at the Miami Hospital and a VA Hospital in Georgia. All three sites failed to properly sterilize equipment between treatments.
More than 11,000 U.S. Veterans received a letter from the VA urging them to have a blood test after receiving a colonoscopy because the procedure may have been performed with improperly cleaned equipment. To date, five have tested positive for HIV, 25 for hepatitis C and eight for hepatitis B. The VA warned that those who received colonoscopies as far back as five years could be at risk of infections. The colonoscopies in question took place between 2004 2009. That means some veterans may not show signs of Hepatitis until 2014.
As lawsuits are being filed, the VA is only contending that it breached a duty of reasonable care by using equipment that was not properly cleaned, sterilized, or sanitized. It denies the equipment caused health problems. The defendant’s attorney is downplaying the seriousness of the illness stating that more likely than not, victims will be completely cured of the infection because medications becoming available will cure all symptoms. But, there is no guarantee; hepatitis can cause liver damage. What if it isn’t detected in time to cure the victim?
No one should be exposed to life-threatening diseases due to the negligence of improper sterility procedures. These incidents are entirely preventable. These lax sanitation procedures are completely inexcusable. Some patients may have never received a letter. Some may have moved; sixteen months after the VA sent the letters to veterans, the Miami VA realized 79 of its veterans were missed, another careless and negligent act by the facility.
How many more cases may surface? In how many more VA facilities across the country? Threats of large medical malpractice awards are strong deterrents against bad healthcare provider behavior; they keep us all safer. If there are limited or no consequences for bad behavior, bad behavior will continue. It is really that simple. Tort reform encourages bad behavior.
There are many inexpensive changes that can make healthcare safer. Proper training of employees in policies and procedures should be the first step. A simple checklist that, when used before surgeries, has been shown to significantly decrease the rate of surgical errors. A federal law requiring hospitals nationwide to publish their infection rates could increase motivation to decrease those rates. Hospital personnel should learn from their mistakes and not repeat bad behavior. Doctors with track records of malpractice should not be able to flee from state to state. These are simple safety measures that do not affect the rights of injured victims.
Stand up for justice, stand up for safety, stand up for injury prevention, and stand up for holding the wrongdoers accountable for their actions.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.