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VA hospital fly infestation postponed 80+ operations, investigation finds

Flies (Free Use Image)
May 02, 2018

A three-month investigation at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center revealed that at least 80 surgeries had to be postponed due to a fly infestation, a CBS2 News investigation recently exposed.

The VA acknowledged that 83 surgeries had to be postponed from November of 2016 through February of this year because of a fly infestation.

Some of the startling details the investigation uncovered were that more than 200 flytraps are set up throughout the hospital, including inside the operating room. Many of the traps had flies attached to them.

“I don’t believe there’s any hospital in this country that would find it acceptable to have flies on a routine basis,” said Dr. Christian Head, associate director and chief of staff for quality assurance at the West LA facility. He is also a head and neck surgeon.

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Investigative reporter David Goldstein led the investigation that used hidden cameras inside the hospital.

The investigation gathered emails and memos that validated the infestation has been ongoing since at least November 2016.

In fact, in November 2016, the operating rooms at the hospital were closed for 22 days because of the flies.

The flies that have infested the hospital are the phorid flies, according to Brian Brown, the curator of entomology at the LA Museum of Natural History, CBS2 News reported.

“They’re predators. Parasites. Scavengers. So you can see where there’s thistles and hairs on the body. That’s the places the dirt and bacteria can stick to. But under a microscope, we can see how they can carry bacteria and endanger the sterile environment of an operating room. They’re attracted to open wounds for the fluids that they need to sustain themselves and also to keep from drying out,” Brown said.

The flies can transmit bacteria and could also lay eggs on the open wounds, Brown said.

“The fact that VA has waited for more than two years to properly address this, I think underscores leadership failure at the highest levels,” said Eric Hannel, an investigator for the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

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Head said he and others informed hospital officials about the fly problem, but one doctor was suspended.

“I believe there’s a culture in the Veterans Administration that punishes people who are willing to come forward,” he added.

“We found zero evidence of patient harm” but closed the operating rooms “out of an abundance of caution,” a VA statement said.

The VA said that “currently all operation rooms are open and they are working closely with national subject matter experts to ensure this does not occur again.”

Doctors at the hospital said that the flytraps have not been removed and they do not remain hopeful that the problem is over.

However, CBS2 News reported unconfirmed reports that as of last Tuesday, flies were still present in one of the labs and procedures had to be stopped.