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Surgical sterilization problems ease, officials say

But, 'not totally out of the woods'


Published on March 16, 2016
James McLeod/The Telegram
Eastern Health CEO David Diamond and Chief Information Officer Ron Johnson provide an update Wednesday about surgery problems within Eastern Health. Diamond said they’re not out of the woods yet, but things are improving.

Orthopedic surgeries will happen at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital today, and Eastern Health is moving towards resuming them at the Health Sciences Centre Friday, another signal that it’s confident the worst of its surgical equipment sterilization woes are in the past.

At a media briefing Wednesday morning, Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said that surgical instruments sent to Toronto for an intensive chemical cleaning process have come back clean, and when they’re re-sterilized locally, the tools come through with no problems.

This is an improvement over intensive, repeat hand-washing that Eastern Health was doing on its equipment — a solution to the sterilization issues that proved labour-intensive and slow.

All told, though, Eastern Health is still in the “code grey” which denotes that the health authority is dealing with a very serious disruption.

“We’re not totally out of the woods,” Diamond said. “In fact, we’ll continue with our code grey until the end of the weekend, and then we’ll re-evaluate. We still need to make sure we have capacity.”

It was more than a month ago that Eastern Health announced that brown stains found on surgical towels was forcing them to cancel elective surgeries.

Since then the health authority has been changing equipment, cleaning out pipes, and shipping tools to Toronto in an attempt to keep a supply of clean surgical gear.

Diamond said they still don’t know exactly what caused the problems, and they probably never will know the exact cause, but all of the efforts seem to have worked.

The total cost of the problems is currently estimated at $3.7 million, all told, and that includes plans to ship up large quantities of Eastern Health’s tools to Toronto for the extensive chemical cleaning.

In addition to that cost, the charitable Health Care Foundation is stepping in to give Eastern Health $920,000 to buy more equipment.

Especially with orthopedic surgeries which require big tool sets including surgical saws and drills, the crisis has proved that they simply do not have enough tools to weather a storm.

“As a matter of fact, it had already been previously suggested to the foundation at a smaller level that they were needing some additional equipment, and we raise funds to support adult health care, and we decided this is something we should be doing,” Paul Snow, president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation said Wednesday.