Eastern Health says it’s not out of the woods yet, but things are getting better when it comes to the sterilization problems for surgical equipment at St John's hospitals.
Eastern Health CEO David Diamond and VP Oscar Howell speak to journalists Friday afternoon, giving an update on surgical sterilization problems. After two weeks of stains showing up on surgical gear, Diamond said that they’re not back to 100 per cent yet, but things are improving. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Out of around 250 surgeries scheduled in the last three days, only 12 have been cancelled due to problems with sterile equipment, but that’s still 12 more surgeries than Eastern Health CEO David Diamond would like.
It's been two weeks since Eastern Health shut down elective surgeries because of brown stains showing up on sterilized towels.
Since then, CEO David Diamond said that they've resumed surgeries, but there are still scattered cancellations happening due to surgical teams opening up sterile kits and finding problems.
In addition to the brown stains, Diamond said the health authority is also having problems with a black film showing up on gear, which might be a byproduct of chemical cleaners being used to give old tools an extra going over.
Eastern Health has added water filters, cleaned sterilization equipment, flushed pipes all in an effort to get rid of the brown stains. They still don’t know exactly what caused it, and Diamond says they probably never will understand the exact cause, but all the measures seem to have made things better.
“We hope we’re nearing the end of the staining issue,” he said.
All of this is proving to be very expensive.
There's still no firm sense of how much these disruptions will cost, but Diamond said it's well over $1 million.
They’re still sending gear to Toronto for sterilization by a private company; a particularly big load will go over the weekend to give local sterilization workers a bit of a break.
- Read more special articles:
- Elective orthopedic surgeries cancelled as sterilization problems in St. John’s drag on
- Orthopedic elective surgeries cancelled this week at Health Sciences
- Eastern Health still rescheduling some surgeries
- Stains on surgical kits still not resolved
“Frankly, our staff in our sterilization area are getting pretty exhausted of two weeks of 24 hours, seven days a week, trying to maintain our operation,” he said. “So one of the big benefits of sending a load off this weekend to Toronto will be to try and give some people who desperately need a rest.”
On top of the contracted sterilization and the overtime, Eastern Health is having to pay for new gear. It’s replacing some of its old kit — another possible cause of the brown stains — and buying more tools so that it has a better stockpile for any future disruptions.
Some of that gear gets pretty expensive; one kit bought recently for hip surgery cost nearly $100,000.
Of the 440 adult patients who had elective surgeries cancelled when the stains were first discovered, 103 have already been done in the past week, and another 82 are booked for the coming days.
Diamond said once the health authority is on top of things, it will implement a plan for adding extra surgical slots to eat through the backlog.