No word on whether patients were notified
The Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. — Telegram file photo
In December, Eastern Health discovered mould in the Health Sciences Centre in several patients’ rooms, and quietly cleaned it up.
The issue was not made public at the time, and it is unclear whether the health authority ever informed the patients in the affected rooms.
The Telegram learned about the mould issue at the province’s largest hospital based on information about two untendered contracts tabled in the House of Assembly.
In total, Eastern Health spent more than $60,000 on two mould removal contracts in December, which were not publicly tendered because it was a “pressing emergency” to rectify the situation.
Joe Dunford, Eastern Health’s regional director of infrastructure support, said that initially they thought it was just water damage in two rooms.
“The initial assessment identified two rooms that needed to be renovated to repair the water damage fairly quickly,” he said. “When we got into the work, we realized the water damage had kind of spread to a couple of other areas and at that point. We realized there were two other rooms that needed to be closed down.”
Once workers got in there, they discovered that there was mould as well that needed to be taken care of.
Dunford said he couldn’t say whether the patients in the rooms were informed about the mould, and potential health issues associated with it.
“We didn’t know we had mould right away, at the time. We knew we had water damage but then when we got into it, we realized that there was mould there,” he said. “The two patients that were removed, to my knowledge, they were told we were removing because we had water damage and we obviously had to renovate.”
Charlie Leduc, a spokesman for Mould Busters, which specialized in mould detection and removal, said that mould can be a significant health concern.
“As a health concern. It’s major. First of all, there are over 100,000 species of mould, so based on the type of species it is, it can cause different effects,” he said. “Almost all mould is allergenic.”
Mould Busters says that it can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue and over long exposure, it can cause respiratory disease.
Dunford said he didn’t know if the mould was tested to determine whether it was toxic or not.
“My understanding is all mould is bad. Once you see you’ve got mould, you get rid of it,” he said. “That’s our approach. As soon as we know we have mould, whatever it is, whether it’s toxic, non-toxic or whatever, we go in and get rid of it right away.”
None of this sits well with Liberal House Leader Yvonne Jones, who has been dealing with a school in her Labrador district that was heavily infested with mould.
Jones said she could attest to the serious health consequences of the students at the school in Charlottetown.
“Some of these kids are going to have lasting health implications because of the types of mould that were there,” she said. “It’s not a matter of just removing them from the environment, in certain cases, and their health conditions are going to improve or go away.”
Jones said that when it comes to schools and hospitals, the government should be doing a better job of testing for mould spores, and making those results public.
When told that the Eastern Health did not reveal to the public that there was a mould issue at the Health Sciences, Jones said she wasn’t impressed.
“Any time, I think, there is any mould found in public places — whether it be in hospitals or schools — that needs to be made available to people,” she said. “We don’t know if there are patients that are affected or have been affected or have been affected as a result of the mould that they’re cleaning up there.
“Government has a responsibility to disclose this kind of information to the public.”
Zelda Burt, media relations manager for Eastern Health, said in an e-mail that “there was no risk to patients or staff from the time the water damage was found.”
Burt said as they were investigating the situation, air quality testing was done.
“Air quality testing was conducted, which indicated the presence of very low levels of certain types of mould,” she said. “It was concluded that these levels were low enough and not considered to be dangerous.”