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Letter to the Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs

After learning that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suspended all surgeries at the John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) joined members of the Illinois and Missouri Congressional Delegations in asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain the circumstances surrounding this latest potential equipment contamination. Other Members of Congress signing on to today's letter include: Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), John Shimkus (R-IL), William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO).

While expressing support for the employees at John Cochran who are deeply committed to ensuring the safety of veterans, the Senators and Congressmen urged the VA to thoroughly address all patient safety concerns as soon as possible.

"Potential problems in quality management cause grave concern, not just for veterans served by John Cochran, but the entire community," wrote the Members. "All of our constituents want to know that their loved ones are safe when they go to John Cochran for treatment. We offer to work with you and area veterans to find solutions to these concerns so that we can restore the trust of our veterans and bring John Cochran VAMC, and all area VA facilities, to the highest level of quality customer service and safety."

Specifically, they asked the VA to detail the measures that have been taken to prevent future contaminations and to provide a full report of any health issues discovered as a result of the most recent incident. They also requested to be informed of the results of instrument handling reviews that were conducted as a result of a June 2010 incident that caused the VA to suspend services in the dental clinic. As a result of these errors, almost 1,812 veterans were potentially exposed to dangerous diseases.

[Text of the letter below]

February 7, 2011

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

We were extremely troubled to learn that surgical procedures at John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center were suspended on February 2, 2011, because of irregularities discovered during a pre-surgery inspection. We understand that it is early in the process of determining what has happened, but we ask that you use every means at your disposal to retain the trust and confidence of veterans in Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois served at the facility. We stand ready to work with the VA and area veterans to ensure that all patient safety concerns are thoroughly addressed.

This is the second suspension of services at John Cochran because of potential quality management issues in the past seven months. In June 2010, the VA suspended services in the dental clinic after identifying problems in equipment handling. As a result of these errors, almost 1,812 veterans were potentially exposed to dangerous diseases. Following these discoveries, we were informed that the VA took steps to prevent a similar situation from occurring again. We were also informed that the VA dedicated $5 million to make the infrastructure improvements necessary to make these changes possible. Further reviews of instrument handling procedures were required after the most recent incident. We request to be informed of the results of those reviews.

We request a full accounting of any health issues that are discovered as a result of the most recent incident. In addition, as we asked for in our June 30, 2010, letter to you in response to the dental equipment errors, we request that you detail any actions the VA takes to train staff and improve procedures in order to ensure such incidents are prevented in the future.

We are mindful that the VA health care system is one of few that reports negative safety inspection results such as those that resulted in suspension of surgeries at John Cochran this month. Still, potential problems in quality management cause grave concern, not just for veterans served by John Cochran, but the entire community. All of our constituents want to know that their loved ones are safe when they go to John Cochran for treatment. We offer to work with you and area veterans to find solutions to these concerns so that we can restore the trust of our veterans and bring John Cochran VAMC, and all area VA facilities, to the highest level of quality customer service and safety.

We know that you and the employees at John Cochran are deeply committed to ensuring the safety of veterans in your care. We share that concern and look forward to working with you to that end.

Sincerely,
Dick Durbin (D-IL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Kirk (R-IL),
Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jerry Costello (D-IL), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), John Shimkus (R-IL), William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)


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