Veteranclaims’s Blog

July 13, 2010

Congressional Testimony, Earlene Johnson’s Warnings Ignored, St. Louis-VA Sterilization Problem

Full Article at: VA tech says she warned of sterilization problems

By JIM SALTER (AP) – 19 minutes ago

ST. LOUIS — A former medical supply technician at the St. Louis VA Medical Center told a congressional hearing Tuesday that she warned more than a year ago that dental equipment sterilization was inadequate, but her pleas were ignored.

Earlene Johnson spoke at a special hearing in St. Louis called by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The committee convened the hearing after the VA sent letters two week ago, warning 1,812 veterans treated at the St. Louis dental clinic that lapses in sterilization of dental equipment potentially exposed them to viruses including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.

A VA official said Tuesday that some veterans have since tested positive for the viruses but it was too soon to tell if the dental equipment was the cause.

Johnson had worked at other VA hospitals and went to work in St. Louis in December 2008 in the sterilization division. She did not work directly in the dental division but said she saw flaws in dental sterilization.

She said that starting in March 2009, she tried to alert VA officials at the St. Louis center and in Washington about the inadequacies, but no one listened. It was a full year later that VA notified veterans of the sterilization problem and urged them to get blood tests. Meanwhile, Johnson was fired — she believed because of the concerns she raised. She is appealing to get her job back.

“What happened in the dental clinic shouldn’t have ever happened,” Johnson said during emotional testimony. “If people were taking their jobs seriously, not passing the buck and pointing the finger, none of this would have happened.”

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