TOMAH — A Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center dentist who failed to follow proper infection control procedures resigned Friday, avoiding a disciplinary hearing scheduled for today that could have led to his dismissal.
“Although we cannot prevent the dentist from resigning while administrative actions are pending, we are continuing reporting procedures to the State Licensing Board and the National Practitioner Data Bank,” said Victoria Brahm, the Tomah VA Medical Center’s acting director.
“We will not stop doing all we can to ensure those responsible for this serious breach of patient trust are held accountable,” she said in a statement issued by the medical center.
The Tomah VAMC notified 592 Veterans they are eligible to obtain free screenings for possible infections as a result of the dentist’s actions.
The dentist, who was hired in October 2015, was reusing drill bits without properly sterilizing them. The VA requires its dentists to dispose of bits after one use.
The VA announced the lapse last week, the same day it began contacting the patients seen by the dentist during the past year.
Brahm said only 54 of those patients received crowns or bridges, but the VA wants to test every patient he treated.
The dentist, one of four who practiced at the facility in the past year, was not identified because of federal employee protections.
The VA said at the time that no infections had been identified as having been transferred because of the dentist’s actions but that if any veterans are found to be infected the VA “will provide the necessary care and treatment without charge.”
The dentist was removed from patient care on Oct. 21, immediately after senior staff learned of the violation. The VA’s Clinical Episode Response Team launched an investigation that concluded Oct. 31.
Brahm said the VA spent four weeks reviewing patient medical records and organizing a hotline and clinic for testing and follow-up care if needed.
Brahm said the VA also has contacted the dental licensing board in Texas, where the dentist was licensed, as well as state and federal prosecutors who are reviewing the case for possible criminal charges.
The violation was initially reported by a dental assistant who was filling in for the dentist’s regular assistant, who Brahm said is also being investigated.
The Tomah medical center was at the center of an 18-month Congressional investigation that culminated in May with a top VA official acknowledging a “clear and inexcusable lack of leadership” was to blame for the deaths of at least two veterans who were treated there.
The investigation began after 2015 media reports detailed high levels of opioid prescription and a pervasive culture of intimidation and retaliation against employees who spoke out. Two top officials from Tomah — director Mario DeSanctis and medical chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan — were removed in the wake of that report, as were at least two other care providers.