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Congressman: VA whistle-blower was fired

ST. LOUIS, July 14 (UPI) -- Congressional representatives say a whistle-blower at a St. Louis Veterans Affairs hospital was fired, while employees who put patients at risk remain there.

A committee held a hearing Tuesday in St. Louis on the John Cochran VA Medical Center and the possible exposure of 1,812 patients there to hepatitis, the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat reported.

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"Our concern is this isn't an isolated case," said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill. "There is a cultural issue here."

When Shimkus said no one ever seems to lose their jobs at veterans' hospitals when patients are victims of neglect or malpractice, the committee chairman, Bob Filner, reminded the panel of Earlene Johnson, a medical supply technician dismissed in November. While the stated reason was "unprofessional conduct," Shimkus suggested her real fault was trying to warn her superiors dental equipment might not be correctly sterilized, putting patients at risk of serious infection.

In June, the hospital warned 1,812 they might have been infected during dental surgery.

Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health in the department of veterans affairs, said every member of the group will be assigned a case manager.

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