Sterilization issue at VA Hospital in Clarksburg affects patients

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. - The VA Medical Center in Clarksburg has been operating without the use of one of its sterilization machines since late November. 

After noticing spotting on some equipment used in surgery, the VA inspected its autoclave machines and has been working very hard to find the source of its problem. 

Many departments are not affected by the outage of the autoclave machine, according to Dr. Glenn Snider, director of the VA Medical Center.

"For the emergency department, for the dental department, for the eye folks, for all of our clinics, we continue to operate those outpatient clinics as we normally would because we are either using disposable instruments, that is instruments used for one patient and it is disposed of, or we are using instruments that are processed by a different sterilization technique," said Dr. Snider.

Dr. Snider explained that only a percentage of patients in the hospital are being affected by the sterilization machine.

"If you are talking about the operating room itself, we are probably impacting about between 30-50 percent of the cases by not using the autoclaved instruments at this point," said Dr. Snider. "The operating rooms have been open, they continue to be open, and we are using instruments that are sterilized by alternate methods."

Some patient's cases are being sent to the VA Hospital in Pittsburgh or private hospitals in the area, like United Hospital Center and Mon General Hospital. 

This week, the hospital has sterile processing representatives coming in from Washington, D.C. to inspect processes and see if they can find where the problem is occurring with the autoclave machine. 

"So far, it looks like the issue is with the hardness of the water or the mineral content of the water, and we have been told this is something occurring throughout the country in both private and government hospital, and we are looking for a solution to address that," said Dr. Snider. 

One of the solutions is to replace the machine. To replace the machine, the hospital said it would take a year or more because they would have to get an engineering firm to design and refurbish the entire sterile processing system. 

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin questioned the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin about the closing when he testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Senator Manchin asked Secretary Shulkin about the specific timeline for the hospital to become fully operational again.

"On December 20, a high-risk veteran contacted my office after his bypass surgery was cancelled while he was laying on the operating table at our Clarksburg VA," Senator Manchin said. "The reason being that spots were found on tools processed by the hospital's autoclave. We've been told that they've estimated that it will be at least 10 weeks before a temporary sterilization unit will be operational, and it will also take a whopping 16 to 18 months to replace the one that is deficient. This is egregious, and we need your help."

Stay with 12 News as we continue to cover this developing story. 

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