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Sunday, March 27, 2011


Trouble at VA went beyond 1 dentist

A VA investigation shows the dental office was poorly managed and understaffed.

By Ben Sutherly, Staff Writer
Updated 11:39 PM Saturday, March 26, 2011
DAYTON — Problems at the Dayton VA Medical Center’s dental clinic went far beyond Dr. Dwight Pemberton, the dentist whose poor infection control practices may have exposed 535 patients to such diseases as hepatitis and HIV from January 1992 to 
July 2010.
In sworn testimony given during a Veterans Affairs investigation, workers describe a poorly run, understaffed clinic, where supervisors tolerated inappropriate activities and cut corners, and workers were paralyzed by fear.
According to a post-investigation report, another of the clinic’s eight dentists allegedly broke teeth during extractions and performed unnecessary procedures. Working with that dentist, whose name hasn’t been obtained by the Dayton Daily News, “was just like watching a child be abused,” one worker told investigators.
Clinic dentists even took credit for being primary providers of dental work done by unlicensed students, who were permitted to practice without the required level of supervision, according to the report.
A former patient of Pemberton’s said he received substandard care at the clinic during a visit five years ago. Thomas Woodson of Harrison Twp. told the Dayton Daily News Pemberton enthusiastically introduced him to his fellow dentists after Woodson told him he is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and slave Sally Hemings. While Pemberton took keen interest in Woodson’s roots, Woodson went home with ill-fitting dentures that he soon quit wearing.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki acknowledged a “failure of leadership” in Dayton during a federal budget hearing earlier this month, during which he was asked why VA Medical Center Director Guy Richardson had received an $11,874 bonus at the end of federal fiscal 2010.
“I’m not going to try to describe why a bonus was sensible,” Shinseki said. “This went on for an extended period of time when it wasn’t brought to the attention of leadership, and I again fault that to a failure in leadership.”
Soon after, Richardson was reassigned to a VA regional headquarters job in Cincinnati, described by VA officials as a “lateral move” without a change in pay. Richardson received $167,328 in fiscal 2010.
The VA initially said nine veterans had tested newly positive in preliminary tests for hepatitis B or hepatitis C antibody, but on Friday cut that number to five.
Members of Congress have been unimpressed by the VA’s response to the scandal so far.
“These practices are so shocking and outrageous that you would expect the VA to have a very strong and open response to this,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, said Thursday. Instead, he said, the agency “clearly appears to be in cover-up mode.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called the response “slow” but said transparency is improving.
The VA has defended its response, pointing to a recent New England Journal of Medicine article that singles out the VA’s disclosure policy for adverse events to patients. The policy, according to the article, “endorses transparency.”
VA officials didn’t defend Pemberton’s actions, but noted not all of the complaints about the second dentist were deemed valid. Dr. Bill Germann, the Dayton VA’s acting chief of staff, said that dentist will likely begin practicing again at the Dayton VA.
Germann also said there was appropriate oversight of fourth-year dental students, and dentists appropriately documented work done by those students.
“Based on my knowledge, the comments in the (investigative) report were not totally appropriate,” Germann said.
The dental clinic scandal in Dayton calls into question how accountable people are held throughout VA, said Ronald Hamowy, a fellow with the Cato Institute and the Independent Institute, both libertarian groups. Hamowy authored “Failure to Provide,” a March 2010 report on the VA.
Hamowy prefers the government stop providing medical care directly to veterans and instead contract for that care to be provided in civilian medical facilities under a Medicare-type program.
Though Medicare itself has been abused by clinicians, “there’s less opportunity for waste and corruption,” Hamowy said.
But Brown said the dental clinic scandal reflects long-standing issues specific to the Dayton VA that merit a hospital-wide organizational review, not systemic issues across VA nationwide.
“It’s a very good health care delivery system,” Brown said of the VA. “It’s a cultural issue in that VA (in Dayton). It doesn’t extend beyond that VA, but it’s been endemic there for some time.”
Underperformers at understaffed clinic
Dental clinic workers told investigators the clinic was woefully understaffed. The director of the facility’s residency program said the ratio of dental assistants to dentists was too low to support four resident slots and put patients at risk.
“We were critically short dental assistants, not only to run a residency, but to run a dental service,” he told investigators.
One assistant was hired in response to his concerns, but the staffing levels remained unacceptably low, the director said.
The shortage of dental assistants also may have had implications for infection control. Prior to 1992, investigators said Pemberton regularly had at his side a dental assistant, who would prod him to follow hygiene protocols. But in 1992, Pemberton began working alone, and the VA report concluded “it was when he worked alone that (he) presented a clear danger to patients since he would often fail to adhere to established infection control protocols.”
Supervisors for years had been told about Pemberton’s failure to change gloves and sterilize dental instruments, but he was not disciplined and continued to receive raises up until dental clinic workers alerted an outside team of VA inspectors to the infection control issues in July.
“I’ve seen him literally walk from his room with this patient’s denture in one hand, go across to another room, open this patient’s mouth with this denture of the opposite patient in his hand,” one dental assistant testified. “I’ve seen him use the same instruments, the same handpiece, the same burs all day long on every patient. I’ve seen him go out of the clinic and push the button on the elevators with dirty gloves on. I’ve seen him open lab doors with dirty gloves on; I’ve seen him go in the lunchroom and use the microwave with dirty gloves on.”
Over the years, Pemberton had been counseled about infection control practices. At times, he showed improvement, but eventually lapsed back into old habits, witnesses said.
A former dental clinic supervisor blamed intervention by the NAACP for foiling his efforts in the early 1990s to remove Pemberton, who is black.
A subsequent dental service chief often changed Pemberton’s instruments so Pemberton wouldn’t continue to use dirty instruments on patient after patient, according to the report.
One dental clinic worker said she saw supervisors clean Pemberton’s room at times “because they (knew) what (was) going on, and to cover their — I mean since things have been brought up to them — to cover their own butt.”
Pemberton, 81, of Centerville “repudiated” the claims against him, according to the report. He retired Feb. 11, and thus is no longer subject to possible disciplinary action by the VA. He declined comment for this article.
The Dayton Daily News confirmed Pemberton’s name independently, but was unable to do so for other dental clinic employees whose names were also edited from the investigative report.
While some claimed the clinic was chronically understaffed, other testimony suggested some workers weren’t pulling their weight.
The dental service chief, for example, admitted under oath that he saw patients only two days a week, despite the dental clinic’s shortage of dentists.
Pemberton, who was paid $165,878 annually before retiring Feb. 11, obsessed over genealogy. He spent “countless hours conducting genealogy research on work computers” when he should have been working on patients, the report claimed. In the report, a VA investigator said patients complained about Pemberton asking questions about their family background and doing genealogy research.
One former dental assistant even told VA investigators she suspected Pemberton scheduled follow-up appointments with patients based on his genealogy interests rather than on medical necessity.
“Sometimes he would want me to get a patient back in even though I didn’t feel like there was enough time to do the patient,” the dental assistant told VA investigators.
“And the reason you believe he wanted that was because of the genealogy?”
“It’s possible,” she said.
Another coworker testified Pemberton spent a great deal of his clinical time doing genealogical research and was not productive.
“Was that (lack of productivity) a good thing?” an investigator asked.
“Yes,” the coworker replied. “Very good thing.”
VA hospitals subject to enough oversight?
VA hospitals like Dayton’s are subject to both independent and internal oversight.
The Veterans Health Administration monitors the hospitals to identify patient care or systems-related issues. For example, Dayton VA dental clinic employees alerted a VA official to Pemberton’s infection control issues during a System-wide Ongoing Assessment and Review Strategy (SOARS) review at the hospital in late July.
The VA’s facilities also are independently monitored by The Joint Commission, an independent nonprofit that accredits and certifies more than 18,000 U.S. health care organizations and programs.
In November, a Joint Commission team conducted an unannounced, triennial review of the Dayton hospital. During that review, one surveyor reviewed infection control practices and other aspects of the dental clinic. No adverse findings were reported, the VA said.
The Dayton Daily News on March 16 requested recent Joint Commission inspection reports at the Dayton VA from the VA and the Joint Commission. The Joint Commission declined, and the VA has not yet responded.
The Dayton clinic is not the VA’s only troubled dental clinic. At a VA medical center in St. Louis, improper cleaning and sterilization of reusable dental equipment posed an infection risk to patients between February 2009 and March 2010. The VA notified 1,812 patients, four of whom tested positive for hepatitis C or hepatitis B, a VA spokesman said.
In a prepared statement, the VA said its medical centers have been “increasingly vigilant” in monitoring and investigating any infection control issues. When VA’s central office learns of actual or potential adverse events, a clinical review board is formed to see if evidence indicates any patient risk and if disclosure of those adverse events to patients and their families “is in the best interest of their health and well-being,” the statement reads.
After Dayton’s dental clinic scandal became public, VA added a dental component to its SOARS review.
“If I go down, everybody’s 
going down”
The VA report faulted the clinic’s dental service chief not only for failing to take action against Pemberton, but for his “wholly insufficient” professional practice evaluations of staff members. Staff members told investigators the dental service chief stuck his head in the door of operatories where dentists were working on patients, but couldn’t actually see how dentists were doing their work. Only the top of the patient’s head was visible from the doorway.
The dental service chief had been hired at the clinic as a dentist to be groomed for the chief role. But one unidentified witness told investigators that he/she wouldn’t have endorsed the dental service chief for the job, though he/she wasn’t asked.
“He was always — for want of a better term — lurking, standing around doorways, and at corners and whatnot, attempting to overhear conversations,” the witness said. “And he didn’t do much dentistry; he didn’t have very good rapport with the dental residents. Didn’t have very good rapport with anyone, for that matter, in the dental service, except for a couple of the staff dentists. But he was just not, in my mind, a leader that would be able to move the dental service forward in any particular constructive way.”
Following revelations of Pemberton’s poor infection control practices, the dental clinic closed Aug. 19 for staff training and a thorough cleaning.
At the same time, a VA administrative investigation board began calling witnesses to provide sworn testimony about the dental clinic’s problems. Two people testified that they felt intimidated by the dental service chief.
“I heard they made you come in at 6:45 in the morning,” the dental chief told one witness while she was lunching outside the VA hospital one day with another witness.
“No, they didn’t make us,” she replied. “We volunteered.”
“Well, I’m still the dental chief and I will be back,” the other witness recalled the dental chief saying. “And if I go down, everybody’s going down.”
Turner said he’ll continue to push for a congressional investigation in the wake of the scandal.
“As a member of the House armed services committee, I have never dealt with a federal agency that has been so secretive as the VA,” Turner said. “I think they know that there’s more to the story than they’re telling us, and that there’s a lot wrong here.”
But Jack Hetrick, director of the VA network that includes Ohio’s VA medical centers, said he believes the VA is serious about becoming perceived as a high-quality and responsible institution in the public eye, and that officials are taking steps to “make certain our beliefs are reaffirmed by actual practice.”
“I feel confident in reassuring your readers that everything that’s going on at the Dayton VA Medical Center right now is being done with veterans in mind,” Hetrick said.


Unfolding of the Dayton VA scandal

Late July 2010: Two dental clinic employees notify VA officials of infection control lapses at the Dayton VA’s dental clinic during a SOARS (System-Wide Ongoing Assessment and Review Strategy) visit. Four dental clinic employees are reassigned outside the clinic, including dentist Dwight M. Pemberton.

Aug. 19-Sept. 10: Dental clinic is closed for a thorough review, cleaning and employee training.

Nov. 17: Dayton VA notifies the public of the infection control lapses. The disclosure comes shortly after veteran and activist Darrell Hampton contacts elected officials about the dental clinic’s problems.

Nov. 22: The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General said it will review the clinic’s infection control lapses. That review is ongoing.

Feb. 8: Dayton VA begins contacting 535 patients about free screening for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. All veterans are contacted by mid-March.

Feb. 11: The dentist whose infection control practices prompted the investigation, Dwight M. Pemberton, retires at age 81.

Feb. 16: Elected officials representing Dayton — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville — request a review of oversight practices at the Dayton VA.

March 11: Dayton VA Medical Center Director Guy Richardson is reassigned to a regional headquarters job. William Montague named acting director.

March 14: The Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association receives additional documents that will be reviewed by clinicians outside the VA system.

March 25: U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, and Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., request the House Veterans Affairs Committee hold hearings on the medical safety practices at VA medical facilities nationwide.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I am the Veteran who first reported these violations in Dayton to the Senate and the Media. I did not report them to Turner because I knew he would just demagogue it for his next election. He has proven me true. I’m his constituent and he knows I reported it but he has yet to contact me because I didn‘t vote for him. I receive treatment at the Dayton VA and like everywhere else, INCLUDING CONGRESS, there are “some” jerks who work there but for the most part there are many, many dedicated great employees. I don’t appreciate it when politicians paint anything with such broad brushes as if there are NO GOOD things being done.


Rep. Turner calls for hearings on VA safety practices

Updated 5:54 PM Friday, March 25, 2011
DAYTON — U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, and Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., on Friday requested the House Veterans Affairs Committee hold hearings on the medical safety practices at VA medical facilities nationwide.
Turner and Carnahan asked the committee’s chairman, Jeff Miller, R-Fla., to convene hearings following “two high-profile investigations in the last year” in St. Louis and Dayton, which they claim highlight shortcomings in oversight of broad VA policy as well as regional practices and protocols.
According to the letter:
In May 2010, the VA Inspector General released a report substantiating allegations that endoscopic equipment was not being cleaned properly at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis. The VA announced 1,812 veterans had potentially been exposed to HIV or hepatitis due to improper cleaning of dental equipment at that facility. In February 2011, surgical suites at that medical center were closed due to improperly cleaned surgical equipment. A field hearing found an employee who complained of the violations to supervisors was ignored.
Problems also have been reported at the Dayton VA Medical Center’s dental clinic, where a dentist failed to follow basic infection control practices, exposing at least 535 former patients to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
“The sum of these disturbing revelations brings into question medical and administrative practices in VA facilities, particularly the oversight mechanisms used to police faculty adherence to infectious disease policy,” the letter reads. “We believe the severity of these infractions and the length of time they persisted demonstrates a national systemic problem that warrants the committee’s full attention.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011


As an African American I have never been more ashamed that a black organization would have defended such a malicious crime in my 57 years on this earth. I sincerely hope people do not think this represents African Americans in this country. Dr. Pemberton and Guy Richardson are criminals in my opinion, period, and it makes no difference, to me, how much melanin is in their skin.

This “White Supervisor’s” claim that “The race card was played and that lead him to a “different direction from White higher ups” is not a sufficient excuse to place Honorably Discharged Veterans lives in danger. He had a moral and professional responsibility to stand his ground. Hippocratic oaths demand it and no excuse is acceptable to me for this malfeasance. Blaming it on the NAACP or anybody else will not do! His responsibility, when he took the job, was to provide a safe environment. He cashed the checks and he bought houses and provided for his family with the money. Using the excuse that the “race card was played” to justify his derelict of duty is not good enough for me.

He was wrong, plain and simple and I don’t give a damn WHAT card was played he had a professional obligation to put a halt to Pemberton‘s actions and he should have stood up to the Chief of Staff or any damn body else to protect us from this behavior!

The truth is that he “choose” to go along to get along” and that is the real sad truth of the matter! He didn’t give a damn about the lives of Veterans and he acquiesced in the abuse of patients! He choose his career and money over his duties and our safety!

Why is it the hardest thing for a man to say is: “I was wrong!”

Saturday, March 12, 2011


New VA hospital director an award-winning administrator

By Tom Beyerlein
, Staff Writer
Updated 11:00 PM Friday, March 11, 2011
DAYTON — Department of Veterans Affairs officials on Friday said they coaxed an award-winning hospital administer out of retirement to help the Dayton VA Medical Center recover from the scandal surrounding a dentist’s unsanitary practices that may have led to hepatitis infections of nine dental clinic patients.

William Montague, who headed six VA hospitals including the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, becomes the Dayton VA’s acting director Monday, replacing Director Guy Richardson, who was reassigned to a job at regional headquarters in Cincinnati.

“As most of you know, these major issues (facing the VA) have involved questions about our hospital dental care and the infection control practices of a provider,” VA regional Director Jack Hetrick said in a Friday message to the Dayton staff. He said “we are well on the way to fully addressing this matter.”
He continued, “While Mr. Montague is here, Mr. Richardson will be detailed to the (Veterans Integrated Services Network) to assist with VISN-wide initiatives.”

VA spokesman Todd Sledge said he had no information as to whether Richardson could return to the Dayton VA post. Richardson could not be reached for comment. Sledge said “there’s no overarching reason to believe” that Richardson isn’t capable of running a hospital. In fact, he said, “Mr. Richardson’s record stands for his great performance in Dayton.

Richardson’s salary grew 12 percent between fiscal 2008 and 2010 to $167,328, according to the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions. He also received an $11,874 bonus last fiscal year.
The Dayton VA has been beset with controversy and tragedy during Richardson’s tenure. National surveys in recent years found the Dayton hospital ranked low in patient and employee satisfaction among VA hospitals. Last April, Iraq War veteran Jesse Huff, clad in full combat attire, shot himself to death on the VA steps after being treated there hours earlier.

U.S. Rep. Steve Austria said he “expressed disappointment” with the Dayton VA’s leadership in a meeting Wednesday with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “I am confident that the action Secretary Shineski has taken is the right step forward to help prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future.”
“By reorganizing the Dayton VA, we’re one step closer to the superior care that Ohio’s veterans deserve,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who, along with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Reps. Mike Turner and Austria, pushed Shineski for better oversight of the local hospital.

The dental clinic was temporarily closed last summer amid revelations that dentist Dwight M. Pemberton failed to change latex gloves and sterilize instruments properly between 1992 and June 2010. Subsequent health screenings turned up the nine suspected hepatitis infections.
An Oct. 4 investigative report shows Pemberton’s co-workers alerted VA officials about his unsafe practices for several years, but supervisors allowed him to continue treating patients. Pemberton, who has declined to comment, got a raise last year. He retired in February.

The VA announced that Montague agreed to come out of retirement for the Dayton job. Montague was federal employee of the year in 2000 and won two presidential meritorious rank awards. Under his direction, the Stokes hospital increased the number of veterans it treated by 225 percent, the VA said.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Turner requests top-level visit to VA dental clinic

Staff Report
Updated 1:17 PM Wednesday, March 9, 2011
DAYTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, issued a letter Wednesday reiterating his office’s invitation for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to visit the Dayton VA Medical Center.
The invitation comes in the wake of news that nine patients seen at the medical center’s dental clinic may have contracted hepatitis B or hepatitis C from a dentist who did not follow basic infection control practices. The dentist, Dwight M. Pemberton, 81, of Centerville, performed invasive dental procedures on patients, but failed to change latex gloves and sterilize dental instruments properly between patients, according to VA investigation documents.
“Visiting the Dayton VA Medical Center Dental Clinic will go a long way to reassure the community that the VA is committed to providing the highest quality of care and will do everything within its power to resolve this issue,” Turner wrote in the March 9 letter. “Delivering this message in person will help restore the community’s faith in the VA health system and its leadership.”
Turner’s letter also indicated his office’s requests — both for a release of reports on the VA’s investigation, and for a series of regional and national-level investigations to protect against events like those in the Dayton VA dental clinic — had so far gone unanswered.

I just realized that I failed to notify Congressman Turner's office back in November 2010 concerning this when I notified other authorities. It is not right, neither is it fair to hold him accountable for information that I failed to forward to his office. I have personally apologized to this Member of Congress, today. Perfection is not my strong suit and it's showing again.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March 8, 2011

Despite probe, VA chief received bonuses

The local VA dental clinic has been under investigation since
last summer.

By Ben Sutherly, Staff Writer
11:05 PM Monday, March 7, 2011
Dayton VA Medical Center Director Guy Richardson received an $11,874 bonus last year even though the center’s dental clinic came under investigation for allowing unsafe sanitary practices by one dentist over 18 years.

Richardson received the bonus even though the dental clinic was closed for several weeks last summer, and the VA determined it needed to offer free screenings to 535 patients who had received invasive dental procedures from Dwight M. Pemberton. The Centerville resident failed to change latex gloves and sterilize dental instruments properly between patients between 1992 and July 2010, according to VA officials.

Nine dental clinic patients so far have tested positive in preliminary screenings for hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Last Wednesday, during a federal budget hearing, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, questioned the $11,874 bonus that Richardson received at the end of federal fiscal 2010, as well as the $64,403 in bonuses he had received since 2006, given the problems at the Dayton VA.

“I can’t justify the performance of what happened at Dayton,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told Murray. “I think there is a failure in leadership, and therefore I’m not going to try to describe why a bonus was sensible. ... This went on for an extended period of time when it wasn’t brought to the attention of leadership, and I again fault that to a failure in leadership.”

Last week, Richardson said, “I’m charged as the leader of the facility to make sure we provide high quality, safe veteran care. I will continue to be committed to achieving that mission as long as I’m in this position.”

“I am not sure whether or not Guy Richardson will survive” as director, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner said Monday.

March 8, 2011

VA case irks Turner;
 legislators request 
independent study

By Ben Sutherly, Staff Writer
Updated 12:50 AM Tuesday, March 8, 2011
DAYTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, at a press conference Monday “reiterated his outrage” over infection control lapses that may have led to nine patients potentially contracting hepatitis B and hepatitis C at the Dayton VA Medical Center’s dental clinic.

Turner demanded VA officials respond by Friday to his Feb. 16 request for investigative documents pertaining to the problems.

A VA official couldn’t say Monday how long the VA legally has to respond to the records request.
The problems at the dental clinic prompted its temporary shutdown from Aug. 19 to Sept. 10.
VA officials first went public about infection control lapses at the dental clinic Nov. 17, about four months after at least one employee raised concerns in July.

Turner on Monday criticized VA officials for taking so long to go public about the investigation.
Turner and U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman want officials with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association to independently review the VA investigation and suggest ways to improve medical care at the clinic.

Dayton VA Medical Center Director Guy Richardson told GDAHA officials the VA would cooperate with the independent review and associated recommendations, said Mary Boosalis, chair of GDAHA’s board of trustees.

The VA initiated administrative action steps against three VA employees, but the dentist in question, Dwight M. Pemberton, 81, retired Feb. 11 and therefore is no longer facing discipline. Discipline of the remaining two employees is pending.

When asked Monday if Richardson should keep his job, Turner said, “I am not sure whether or not Guy Richardson will survive” as director.

Bill Schoenhard, deputy undersecretary for Health for Operations and Management, said in a statement Monday that the VA is committed to keeping the process transparent.

“Let there be no doubt that we share the concerns of Ohio’s members of Congress and others regarding the importance of the safety of our nation’s veterans,” Schoenhard said.
“That is why Dayton VAMC has notified patients, out of an abundance of caution and concern for the trust veterans place in the health care they earned,” he said.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

“A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP”---Secretary Shinseki

“A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP” That’s how Secretary Shinseki described Guy Richardson’s leadership of the Dayton Veterans Medical Center. Don’t take my word for it: Click on this link from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee March 3rd hearings, go to the 89th minute and see and hear for yourself!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I have been writing for years that the executives at the Dayton VA think the American people fund this Center with their tax dollars just for them to split amongst themselves. Each and every time a Veteran asks for additional services the most common answer given is “It’s not in the budget”. Yet, these people lavish extra thousands of dollars on each other as if the budget has no bottom. Well, I guess not…At least not for them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Nine Dayton VA dental patients test positive for hepatitis

By Ben Sutherly, Staff Writer
Updated 12:10 AM Wednesday, March 2, 2011
DAYTON — At least nine patients who received dental care at the Dayton VA Medical Center have tested positive in preliminary tests for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, VA officials said Tuesday.
Since Feb. 8 the Dayton VA has contacted 527 of 535 veterans seen by a dentist who failed to change latex gloves and sterilize dental instruments properly between patients. Of 375 patients tested so far, there have been seven Hepatitis C cases, two Hepatitis B cases and no cases of HIV, Director Guy Richardson said.
None of the patients had been previously diagnosed, and further testing will be needed to confirm those infections, said Dr. Andrea Buck, the VA’s national director of medicine. Epidemiological testing will be used to determine if any confirmed cases resulted from exposure at the Dayton VA dental clinic, but Buck said, “We may never know the answer to that question.”
None of the nine preliminary positives have been confirmed, a process that takes a week or so, said Dr. Andrea Buck, the VA’s national director of medicine. Epidemiological testing will be used to determine if any confirmed cases resulted from exposure at the Dayton VA dental clinic, but Buck admitted, “We may never know the answer to that question.” Those tests will take months, she added.
Administrative actions were initiated against three employees, including the dentist, Dwight M. Pemberton, who may have infected patients from 1992 to July 2010. But Pemberton, 81, retired Feb. 11. As a result, he no longer faces administrative action, Richardson said. “I’m not aware of any legal requirement preventing someone from retiring” during an active investigation, he said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, called news of possible infections “outrageous” in a statement. “I intend to continue to follow this process as it unfolds and have taken steps to meet with (VA) Secretary (Eric) Shinseki on this matter. Our veterans deserve better, and I will demand that the Secretary see that through.”
Richardson on Tuesday apologized to veterans.
Richardson said the VA will respond aggressively in providing free screenings as well as care to those who may have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens while receiving care from a VA dentist between 1992 and July 2010.
Asked what responsibility he bears for the lack of oversight of the dental clinic, Richardson said, “I’m charged as the leader of the facility to make sure we provide high quality, safe veteran care. ... I will continue to be committed to achieving that mission as long as I’m in this position.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, earlier this month stopped short of calling for Richardson to step down, saying he first wanted to know the full extent of what happened. More details are expected to be disclosed in a yet-to-be-released VA Office of Inspector General report.
“When something this serious happens, people who are responsible have to be held responsible,” Brown said. “It’s the responsibility of the dentist, but it’s the responsibility of the system that this happened.”
Buck said the Dayton VA’s response has shown leadership: “What we have seen in this response is a commitment to transparency.”
The VA is taking steps nationwide to ensure problems in Dayton aren’t repeated elsewhere, Buck said. For example, one of the VA’s own inspection controls — Systemwide Ongoing Assessment and Review Strategy — added a dental component.

Buck noted the Ohio State Dental Board declined Pemberton’s request to have his license retired. Such a step is typically not taken by the dental board unless an active investigation of that dentist is under way.
Dayton VA’s testing of veterans is estimated to cost $18,000 to $25,000.