WASHINGTON – The Buffalo VA Medical Center should offer health testing not only to the veterans who may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, but also to their family members and caregivers, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday.
Schumer said he decided to ask the VA to extend testing to family members and caregivers after hearing from relatives of diabetics who were treated at the hospital while it was failing to properly label insulin pens. That practice raised the possibility that those insulin delivery devices were used on more than one patient.
Since HIV and hepatitis are communicable diseases, it’s possible that someone who was exposed to one of the viruses through a shared insulin pen could have passed it along to someone else, Schumer said.
“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,” Schumer said. “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.”
Asked to comment on Schumer’s request, hospital spokeswoman Evangeline Conley said: “We are reviewing the matter and exploring available options. Currently, if any veteran tests positive for any blood-borne illness as a result of this incident, VA will provide necessary testing, counseling and care to the veteran at no cost.”
As many as 716 veterans at the hospital could have been exposed to the viruses as a result of the faulty labeling practice at the hospital, which took place between Oct. 19, 2010, and last Nov. 1.
Schumer spelled out his latest concerns about the problems at the Buffalo VA in a letter to Brian Stiller, the medical center director at VA Western New York Healthcare System.
“These family members and caregivers continued to go on with their daily lives and activities, which often include assisting their veterans with wounds, medication or another health care support service function,” Schumer wrote. “They, too, were unaware of their potential exposure and should be able to receive the necessary follow-up services that will be provided to the potentially impacted veterans.”