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CBS2 News Investigation: Flies In Operating Rooms Force VA Hospital To Postpone More Than 80 Surgeries

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A West Los Angeles veterans hospital has had to cancel or postpone dozens of surgeries because of an insect infestation, a CBS2 News investigation has learned.

Investigative Reporter David Goldstein’s three-month investigation included hidden-camera video from inside the hospital.

Here is a full script of Goldstein’s investigation:

In the halls of the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center, these may look like decorative lights, but they’re really flytraps known as flylights.

CBS2 News has learned that more 200 traps had to be installed because of an outbreak of flies that’s gone on for years!

Outside the operating room if you look right above the empty beds, a flytrap.

The same if you look left: more flytraps.

Behind some of the lights our hidden camera found what appears to be insects caught on the glueboards.

We found the traps outside the hallway leading to the operating rooms.

And this still picture shows the traps are even inside the operating rooms. And for good reason.

“The flies have flown into the operating rooms at times requiring cancellation of surgeries.”

“How long have you worked at the VA hospital?”

“About 18 years.”

Dr. Christian Head is associate director and chief of staff for quality assurance at the West LA facility. He’s also a head and neck surgeon at the hospital.

“I don’t believe there’s any hospital in this country that would find it acceptable to have flies on a routine basis.”

We’ve obtained emails and memos showing the infestation goes back as far as November of 2016.

This one titled “Phorid flies in the operating rooms.”

It says that when spot treatments became ineffective, the ORs closed for terminal extermination and cleaning.

We’ve learned the operating rooms at the veterans West Los Angeles Medical Center were closed a total of 22 days from November of 2016 through February of this year because of fly infestations that could jeopardize surgeries.

“They’re predators. Parasites. Scavengers.”

Brian Brown is the curator of entomology at the LA Museum of Natural History. Where they study over a million types of dead insects.

“So this is part of the fly collection, including the phorid flies.”

He showed us the phorid flies that are so tiny they’re kept on pins.

“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.”

“They can transmit the bacteria?”

“Correct. They could also lay eggs on the open wounds.”

The Veterans Administration admits 83 surgeries had to be postponed from November of 2016 through February of this year because of the fly infestation, leaving some of America’s veterans having to wait even longer to get the care they deserve.

“When a surgery is scheduled, they may have been waiting 4-5 weeks or sometimes longer and to tell them the case is canceled.”

“Tt’s a big deal.”

“Well, this is a continuation of delayed care for veterans.”

Eric Hannel was an investigator for the House Veterans Affairs Committee. We spoke with him from Tampa.

“The fact that VA has waited for more than two years to properly address this, I think underscores leadership failure at the highest levels.”

Dr. Head says he and others reported the fly problem but he says instead of addressing it, the VA suspended one doctor and he says they retaliated against him as well.

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

In a statement, the VA says:

“We found zero evidence of patient harm” but closed the operating rooms “out of an abundance of caution.”

They say “currently all operation rooms are open.”

And they’re working closely with national subject matter experts to ensure this does not occur again.

But the flytraps are still in place, and doctors we spoke with say they have no doubt the flies will remain a problem affecting the care of veterans in West LA.

Just Tuesday, Goldstein fielded unconfirmed reports from a source who says that more flies may have been seen in one of the labs and procedures had to be terminated.

So, the infestation may not be over.