(WKBW release) New York Senator Charles E. Schumer on Wednesday urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide swift health testing for family members and caregivers of the 716 patients at the Buffalo VA Medical Center who also could have been exposed to fatal viruses and infections due to the improper reuse of insulin pens, and the failure to swiftly notify patients and others of the mistake.
According to a news release from Schumer's office:
Schumer’s request comes at the heels of his call for the VA’s Inspector General to investigate the use of these insulin pens, which 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. Schumer also highlighted that the window of time for exposure was actually longer for family members and caregivers, because even though the VA suspended the use of the pens in November of 2012, the failure to notify the families for over two months extended their potential exposure period. Schumer has heard directly from affected family members about their health concerns.
“The VA must waste no time in testing the family members and caregivers of the 716 patients in Buffalo who were victims of the negligent and improper use of insulin pens,” said Schumer. “These veterans and their family members who may have been exposed to life-threatening illnesses need testing performed immediately, and every day that goes by is another day the families’ legitimate concerns go unanswered. As the VA works to right the improper procedures used for two years at the Buffalo facility, they must not leave the family members and those in close contact with patients to worry about their health.”
Schumer highlighted today in his letter to the VA the essential role a family member and caregiver plays to a veterans’ successful recovery from illness and ongoing health concerns. Schumer pointed out that the VA provides resources and information to these families and caregivers through the VA Caregiver Support Services, which underscores the primarily role of these individuals in the lives of our recovering veterans. Because of the close proximity of family members and caregivers to VA patients, these individuals bear the risk of unintended exposure to the same viruses. Many caregivers could have been exposed to the patients’ blood, and a variety of concerned individuals have expressed personal health concerns in addition to concern for the VA hospital patients. For months, these family members and caregivers continued to assist their veterans with wounds, medication and other health care support service functions, and were unaware of their potential exposure. Schumer said that these individuals should also be able to receive the necessary follow-up services from the VA that will be provided to the potentially impacted veterans.
Earlier this week, 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. This week, the VA Inspector General heeded Schumer’s call and has begun such an independent investigation.
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.”