WASHINGTON – Officials at the Buffalo VA Medical Center don’t think they received the warnings issued by two federal agencies about the dangers of reusing insulin pens on different patients, a hospital spokeswoman said Friday.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, labeled the hospital’s ignorance of the warnings “almost incomprehensible.” He also said he had won a commitment from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to hold a hearing on the possible reuse of those insulin pens at the Buffalo hospital, which may have exposed 716 veterans to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
While the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert about reusing the insulin pens in March 2009, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its own warning on the issue in January 2012, “we do not have a record of receiving the FDA alert or clinical reminder,” said Evangeline Conley, the hospital spokeswoman. The hospital acknowledged last week that through improper labeling, it could have reused those insulin delivery devices between Oct. 19, 2010, and last Nov. 1. Patients who may have been exposed to viruses as a result are being invited in for testing.
“We are continuing our investigation as to why the prescribed protocol was not followed,” Conley said. “Once this was discovered, immediate actions were taken to correct the procedure for the insulin pens, which are no longer used for inpatients.”
To eliminate the risk that the insulin pens might be reused, the hospital has switched to using individually labeled vials, syringes and needles to deliver insulin to diabetic patients, Conley added.
Nevertheless, members of Congress were shocked not only that proper procedures were not followed, but that the VA hospital was blind to the government warnings about reusing insulin pens.
“As health care providers, the Buffalo VA Medical Center, like all medical providers, has an obligation to remain continually informed about proper medical procedures and pharmaceutical precautions,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.
Meanwhile, Collins shared his concerns with Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who heads the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“I am deeply concerned that the Department of Veterans Affairs disregarded this FDA warning,” Collins wrote to Miller. “This report, along with a series of other troubling revelations over the past week, raise serious concerns about the practices in place at not only the Veterans Medical Center in Buffalo, but potentially at other veterans health facilities throughout the nation.”
Collins said he also spoke to Miller and won a commitment for an oversight hearing where lawmakers will study all aspects of the mix-up at the Buffalo hospital as well as the practices at other VA hospitals.
“I suppose it’s going to reveal a rather embarrassing situation for the VA,” Collins said. “I suspect you are going to see shortcomings that you can’t explain away.”