FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Meredith Kelly
January 15, 2013 202.224.7433
SCHUMER CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE, INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO DISCOVERY THAT OVER 700 PATIENTS AT BUFFALO VA POTENTIALLY EXPOSED TO FATAL VIRUSES DUE TO REUSE OF INSULIN PENS
Schumer Calls on Dept. of Veterans Affairs Inspector General to Immediately Assess How Error Occurred & Implement Protocols to Prevent Future Occurrences
Schumer Noted That VA Must Immediately Respond to 716 Patients Who Could Have Been Exposed to HIV or Hepatitis Due to Improperly Recycled Insulin Pens
Schumer: Independent Investigation Critical to Protect Patients in Buffalo
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Inspector General to formally investigate the recent report that 716 patients at the Buffalo VA Medical Center could have been exposed to fatal viruses do to the improper reuse of insulin pens. These insulin pens are intended for individual patient use, but were reportedly used on multiple patients, and could have spread HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C to the patients between October of 2010 until November of 2012.
“The VA’s independent Inspector General must leave no stone unturned in its investigation as to how 716 patients in Buffalo were victims of the negligent and improper use of insulin pens,” said Schumer. “These patients and their families need answers now. As the VA conducts a thorough and independent investigation, it should also implement clear policies that will prevent future catastrophes like this one from ever happening again down the road.”
Specifically, Schumer wrote the VA Inspector General, asking them to determine how the reuse of these pens on multiple patients took place, how it continued undetected for two years, and why it took over two months to report. Schumer also wants the VA to investigate how many illnesses or fatalities this practice of insulin pen reuse may have catalyzed over the two-year period. In addition to answers to these questions, Schumer called on the VA to immediately institute clear policies and procedures that will prevent similar instances from occurring in the future.
Between October 2010 and November 2012, improperly marked medical devices may have exposed 716 patients to disease. On November 1, 2012, a routine medical examination found a cart of unmarked insulin pens. Because of this breach of standard operating procedure, the pens may have been used by several patients, and ultimately, may have spread disease among them. While the risk for infection would have been far higher if nurses had failed to change the needles on the insulin pens, the reuse of the pens opened patients to an unacceptable risk.
The medical center recently issued a memo to area members of congress about the matter. The medical center director for the VA said to those affected that “we cannot tell whether your insulin was given using a properly labeled insulin pen” but reassured the patients that “your risk of infection is felt to be very low or nonexistent.”
A copy of Sen. Schumer’s letter appears below:
Dear Inspector General Opfer:
I write today to implore you to immediately conduct an investigation around reports of veterans’ potential exposure while receiving health care at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Center. Incidents like this, whether accidental or not, are inexcusable and the details should be uncovered expeditiously.
According to the January 11, 2013 Congressional Information Sheet provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a November 1, 2012 inspection revealed that insulin pens intended for individual patient use were found in the inpatient supply drawer of the medication carts without a patient label on them. This means that the insulin pens intended for individual patient use could have been used on more than one patient, thus, potentially exposing patients to the Hepatitis B Virus, the Hepatitis C Virus, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The Information Sheet further explains that these insulin pens have been in use at this facility since October 19, 2010 and although the disposable needles were changed each time it was used, the insulin pens intended for individual patient use may have been used on more than one patient. According to the Buffalo Veterans Administration Center, this means that over 700 veterans in Western New York may be impacted.
As this country continues to strive to provide the best care and quality medical treatments to our veterans and military personnel, we cannot stand by while potentially life threatening incidents occur. It is also unacceptable that it took the VA over two months to notify the potentially affected patients, the public, and our federal government officials. We are well aware that time is critical in all health care situations and the sooner these veterans are tested and treated for any virus or condition they may have the sooner they can be treated and monitored.
I hope you will consider my request for an investigation. We must use all available resources to ensure that we find out what happened in this case and prevent any future incidents. Our veterans and heroes deserve this and more. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff should you have any questions or concerns.