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Higgins, Collins call infection risk notice to Buffalo VA patients 'troubling'

Rep. Brian Higgins says he is posing questions to Veterans Affairs officials about an alert to more than 500 patients at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center who underwent procedures with medical scopes.

"Anything that compromises the health and safety of those who so bravely served is extremely troubling," Higgins, D-Buffalo, said in a statement.

VA medical center warning 526 patients of infection risk from scopes

"We will ask for more details, await the results of the ongoing investigation, and will work with the Buffalo VA to see that our nation's duty to properly care for our veterans is met," he said.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, also called the revelation "troubling." He encouraged veterans in his district who may be concerned to contact his district office for assistance.

"It is completely unacceptable that proper protocols were not being followed, but I applaud the actions taken to relieve the employee at fault from their duties," he said in a statement.

The hospital acknowledged this week that it is notifying 526 patients that the use of an improperly cleaned medical scope may have put them at risk of infection.

During a recent review of the disinfection process for the reusable equipment generally known as endoscopes, it was noted that steps in the manufacturer’s instructions may not have been followed in some cases by an employee of the hospital, the medical center said in a statement. Hospital officials characterized the risk of infection as "very low," and announced they will offer screening to the patients at no charge.

Concerns around inadequately cleaned medical scopes usually revolves around the transmission of such illnesses as hepatitis C and HIV. "Notification does not mean veterans were infected," medical center officials said in a brief statement on Wednesday.

The VA declined to offer any additional information — including what type of procedure the patients received, the brand of medical scope, and, initially, over what time period. The medical center also declined to say when or exactly how the issue was discovered, how many scopes were involved, or what steps in the cleaning process were not followed.

For years, there has been increasing concern about infections linked to endoscopes, the flexible, lighted tubes that doctors use to peer inside patients' bodies. The devices can be difficult to clean, and require strict adherence to steps to remove organic residues and prepare for reuse in another patient.

Outbreaks have been associated with a number of different medical scopes, including duodenoscopes threaded into the top of the small intestine, gastroscopes passed into the stomach, colonoscopes inserted into the rectum to view the large intestine, and bronchoscopes to view the airways.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time this type of negligence has occurred, yet is an example of how important our reforms have been, especially when it comes to holding VA employees accountable," said Collins, who cited legislation he has supported related to the operation of the Veterans Administration.

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