New problems at John Cochran revealed | St. Louis Public Radio

New problems at John Cochran revealed

Jan 4, 2011

Updated at 8:36pm with response from John Cochran officials.

The troubled John Cochran veteran's hospital is under fire again, this time for allegedly failing to keep critical supplies stocked on a timely basis.

Last summer, 1,800 veterans received a letter telling them they may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis A, or hepatitis B because the hospital's dental clinic had improperly packaged tools. (Four veterans tested positive, though there's no indication the infections were connected to the clinic.)

Now, several nurses at the hospital say the facility cannot keep basic supplies like oxygen tubing stocked, or basic machines repaired.

Twice, says nurse Wes Gordon, he's been unable to get a blood pressure reading on a patient in cardiac arrest because the machines were broken.

"If you can’t get a blood pressure, you don’t know whether to treat them for being hypotensive (low blood pressure), or hypertensive," (high blood pressure) he says. "You can't get a O2 sat reading to see how much oxygen is being delivered."

Gordon says he also couldn't do proper neurological checks on a patient who had fallen and hit his head because the tool he needed - a fundoscope - was also broken. (The device allows nurses and doctors to note changes in pupil size and responsiveness that can indicate a brain bleed.) Gordon says that patient was later transferred to Saint Louis University Hospital, where he died.

Gordon and other nurses say months and years of e-mails do no good.

The Government Accountability Office has a report on procurement at six VA hospitals, including Cochran, scheduled for release this spring. The Office of Inspector General for the Veteran's Administration is investigating the sterilization issue, as is an internal panel.

Cochran spokeswoman Marcena Gunter issued the following statement on the allegations of procurement problems:

The medical center leadership has been aware of the concerns brought forward today and have been actively reviewing them. Since these issues were identified, the Medical Center has taken strong action including hiring a new Chief of Logistics, purchasing additional equipment, and resetting supply levels to reduce the quantity of lesser-used supplies and to increase the availability of higher-used supplies. Following the implementation of these changes, staff have reported a noticeable improvement.

Cong. Russ Carnahan, who hosted hearings on the dental clinic, says the hospital promised the internal report would be completed by September. He still hasn't seen a copy of it. Gunter did not comment on the delayed internal report.