Eastern Health cancels more surgeries, still finding stains in surgical kits

Eastern Health said Tuesday that it has cancelled elective surgeries for Wednesday at St. John's hospitals, and will likely postpone surgeries for the remainder of this week while it looks for the source of staining in its surgical kits.

Health authority believes problem related to water

Eastern Health briefs reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Eastern Health said Tuesday that it has cancelled elective surgeries for Wednesday at St. John's hospitals, and will likely postpone surgeries for the remainder of this week while it looks for the source of staining in its surgical kits.

The St. John's-based health authority had hoped to resume its operating room schedule after two days of postponements.

However, CEO David Diamond said at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon that will not be possible.

Patients scheduled for Wednesday are being contacted to reschedule.

"I have to be honest with you. There's a very good chance we will be cancelling Thursday and Friday," said Dr. Oscar Howell, Eastern Health's vice-president of medical services. 

Diamond said testing is still going on to find the cause of stains on surgical utensils.

On Monday, Diamond said the "mineral stains" were found on towels used in the operating room and that a cluster of problems made the health authority decide to delay all but emergency surgeries as a "precaution."

Urgent surgery affected too

In the latest update, the health authority said patients were prepped for surgeries that had to be called down at the last minute.

"We had three urgent cases that we tried to move into the operating room today, and we had to postpone those cases once again," said Howell.

The vice president of medical services at Eastern Health, Dr. Oscar Howell, says the authority is being 'super sensitive' to any sign of a problem. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"One of those cases had nothing to do with the current issue that we're facing. The other two failed the quality control measure once again," he said.

So far, 250 surgeries have been postponed. That total could rise to 600 by the end of the week.

Diamond said quality control experts are doing detective work at St. Clare's Hospital in St. John's.

"They've been flushing out the lines trying to ensure that the additional mineral and salt content, if it's related to our piping …they've been doing special cleaning on the washers," he said.

"We're optimistic that we will get to the bottom of this. We still feel the root cause is related to water." 

Super sensitive

Diamond said Eastern Health is looking at flying instruments to Toronto for sterilization.

Flying patients to other hospital in the province is also being considered.

In the meantime, elective and emergency surgery will resume Wednesday at hospitals in Carbonear, Clarenville and Burin. 

He said stains on surgical trays and equipment are not seen as a problem.

"Our understanding of that is that's wear and tear," said Diamond. "There's nothing new in what we've found around that....It's old, but it's sterile and safe to use."

Howell said the health authority is being "super vigilant" in the wake of recent problems.

"Some of that equipment has been around a long time, but now we're super sensitized to that, so it's just that added level of comfort until we're sure we can go," he said.