Cause found, but emergencies only in St. John's operating rooms for rest of week

Eastern Health has confirmed that all elective surgeries planned for this week at St. John's hospitals are postponed, but surgeries resumed Wednesday in Carbonear, Clarenville and Burin.

'Mineral deposits' source of problem says Eastern Health

Eastern Health says some patients will be sent to Carbonear or Gander as part of its contingency plan. (Shutterstock)

Eastern Health has confirmed that all elective surgeries planned for this week at St. John's hospitals are postponed, but surgeries resumed Wednesday in Carbonear, Clarenville and Burin.  

A shipment of surgical tools was sent to the province from a company in Toronto on Wednesday, while the health authority tries to find the source of stains in its surgical kits.

CEO David Diamond said the kits will be used for emergency operations, but Eastern Health is making progress testing its own sterilizing system.

"We now have three of the four units at the Health Sciences Centre are fully functional and producing sterile equipment," he said at a news briefing Wednesday afternoon.

"The three units at St. Clare's are being tested as we speak," he said, referring to another hospital in St. John's. 

Diamond said testing has confirmed that the source of the problem is with the water supply.

"We're fairly confident that the mineral sediment in the water is what has caused the problem. Some of that has been there for some time because we're finding some buildup in our pipes and in our equipment," he said.

The system is now being flushed "with the most potent of cleaning material we can find." .

About 600 surgeries have to be rescheduled.

Contingency plan

Eastern Health is working on a plan to catch up, and said one option is to send patients to Carbonear.

"We are as well working with Central Health on diverting some emergency orthopedic work, broken bones and hips and so on," Diamond said, adding that patients from the Bonavista and Burin areas could go to Gander for that kind of surgery.

Eastern Health CEO David Diamond and Dr. Oscar Howell speak to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. (CBC)

Eastern Health said it has kept its surgeons, clinical chiefs and front line managers informed through a Saturday memo, a Tuesday teleconference and daily meetings. 

However, it said in an email to CBC that "there are staff working within private physicians' offices who are not necessarily employed by Eastern Health and would receive information only from the physician for whom they work." 

Several kits rejected Friday

Health Minister John Haggie told CBC on Wednesday that Eastern Health took action after four consecutive surgical kits were rejected during a single operation on one day last week. 

​Haggie told the St.John's Morning Show that multiple problems were found during other surgeries on that day.

"When you`ve got 17 to 20 ORs [operating rooms], as I say, the odd one would happen from time to time," said Haggie.

"You would have the option of getting a second set, and what happened as I understand on Friday, the subsequent sets were stained and I think the trigger is when four consecutive sets came up for a patient in that situation who was anesthetized," he said.

"And I think on Friday we had several patients where that had happened."

Health Minister John Haggie says cancelled surgeries are a nuisance for patients, but necessary to get to the bottom of a quality control problem at Eastern Health. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Haggie called it "distressing for the patients, and it's also quite upsetting for the staff to have to deal with it, because it can be quite emotional."

He said it's challenging to track the source of the problem in the 17 to 20 autoclaves, or sterilizing units, used in city hospitals.

"We`ve had incidents of problems with other areas of OR equipment in other areas of the health care system which turned out to be down to the detergent on the towels that were laundered."