Nearly 600 veterans who had dental care at the Tomah VA in the past year face the possibility of serious infection after management said Tuesday the dentist they saw violated sterilization procedures with tools he used for treatment.
Although she said the "chance is very low" for infection, Acting Medical Director Victoria Brahm asked for the 592 veterans to come in for preventative screening for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. The patients were seen by the dentist at the VA between October 2015 and October 2016.
The concern came to light when a replacement dental hygienist was working with the dentist and saw he wasn't following procedures laid out by the VA for sterilizing dental equipment. She also saw that he was using his own equipment for treatment. The hygienist notified VA management who subsequently discovered that the dentist, according to Brahm, chose not to use the VA's equipment and use his own in violation of other VA procedures.
"The dental assistant came forward on Oct. 20 to the dental chief and he reported it to senior leadership the next day," Brahm said.
Brahm said there are strict rules that the dentist violated when it came to sterilizing dental equipment used on patients.
"This dentist was fully trained in the procedures of the VA, he went through direct observation of his work through a 90 day evaluation," Brahm said. "He passed that and was fully aware of rules and regulations. So this was a purposeful act."
She didn't identify the dentist citing the ongoing investigation. Brahm did say that the dentist is still employed, but not seeing any patients.
"We have been in contact with the licensing board, so while our administrative process moves forward, we have also started the state licensing board process as well."
She said they are recommending criminal charges to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) because of the violations that occurred during the year the dentist saw patients in Tomah.
"As a result of this, I have changed procedure in the dental clinic and what we're doing now is rotating dental assistants so there isn't one dental assistant that is just with one dentist," she said. "Those are private procedures so the only way we would have known is someone coming forward."
A separate investigation into whether the dentist will retain his license is also getting started according to Brahm. She added that his regular hygienist is also being questioned regarding the violations.
She said that any veterans receiving dental care at the VA during the past year can call 1-888-598-7793 to get information regarding screening. The phone line is available 24/7.
A special clinic is opening to serve veterans who need lab work completed. The hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. in building 400.
Brahm said any veterans found to be infected following their screenings will have all care provided for at no charge by the VA.