CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Thousands of patients at a Veterans Administration clinic in Tennessee may have been exposed to the infectious body fluids of other patients when they had colonoscopies in recent years, and now VA medical facilities all over the country are reviewing their own procedures.
A spokesman at the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., said the clinic is offering free blood tests and medical care to all patients whose records show they had colonoscopies between April, 23, 2003, and Dec. 1, 2008.
Christopher Conklin said Friday that notification letters were sent this week by registered mail to 6,378 patients of the Murfreesboro facility. He said no related health problems had been reported, and every measure was being taken to assure that affected veterans are screened.
VA officials also said a problem was found with equipment at an ear, nose and throat clinic at the VA medical center in Augusta, Ga., and 1,800 veterans have been notified they may have been exposed to infection there.
One veteran who received notification from the Murfreesboro clinic, Gary Simpson, 57, said, "The fact that it took five years for them to catch a mistake like that — it seems like somebody should have caught an incorrect valve and incorrect cleaning of the equipment during that time." His wife, Janice, called the discovery "sickening" and "horrifying."
Conklin said a valve on equipment used in the colonoscopies was discovered wrongly connected Dec. 1 and the mistake was traced to April 23, 2003.
A statement from the VA said that in response to the discovery at Murfreesboro and an inspection that found a problem with endoscopic equipment at the VA medical center in Augusta, Ga., all VA medical centers and outpatient clinics are reviewing procedures in a special training program described as a "step-up."