Cancelled surgeries resume in St. John's, carry a $1M tab

A full schedule of surgeries resumed in St. John's hospitals Monday, more than a week after hundreds of operations were cancelled due to contaminated equipment.
Numerous surgeries were cancelled at two St. John's hospitals this month after kits were found to have been contaminated. (CBC)

A full schedule of surgeries resumed in St. John's hospitals Monday, more than a week after hundreds of elective operations were cancelled due to contaminated equipment, as costs to deal with the emergency continue to skyrocket.

"We're not eating away at the 540 patients that were delayed last week," Eastern Health CEO David Diamond told reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon.

​94 surgeries were slated for Monday between St. Clare's Mercy Hospital and the Health Sciences Centre, all of which had been pre-scheduled. 

Of those, four were postponed again because of the problem with stained surgical tools that was first discovered Feb. 12, cancelling all elective surgeries until Feb. 22.

 "We think it'll still be a few days yet before we're confident in our system to be able to ease back into a normal operation," said Diamond, adding nurses are still finding and removing stained tools in operating rooms.

About 90 more surgeries are planned for Tuesday.

"We're planning to have this level of intensive effort in place to the end of this week," said Diamond.

Mounting costs

That intensive effort comes with a high price tag — costs from the contamination, postponements and rescheduling could top $1 million by the end of this week, a figure Diamond called a "rough guesstimate" at this point.

More than 500 surgeries were postponed last week at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's. (CBC)

Some surgical equipment is being flown to Toronto to be sterilized, and overtime costs for staff have not yet been totalled.

"This is expensive," said Diamond, adding that it's still unknown how much will be covered by insurance.

The stains at the heart of the problem have been determined to be mineral deposits, traced back to a contaminated water supply. Although, at this point, Eastern Health has no conclusive evidence to suggest the city is to blame.

'Worn out' equipment

Diamond said in addition to sterilizing some equipment in Toronto, Eastern Health is also following the recommendations of an external expert to improve the function of its seven sterilizers in St. John's.

Eastern Health CEO David Diamond estimates the problems will soon have cost $1 million. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Four of the seven are currently up and running.

Diamond said staff are also in the midst of purchasing new surgical tools, as some "are aged, and stained and essentially worn out."

Diamond said the crisis has shed light on a shortage of such instruments in the system, mainly due to fiscal restraints.

"Some of these pieces of equipment are quite expensive, so over the years we've purchased just enough to do our cases," he said.

"So likely, we've cut ourselves too fine for this type of disruption."

Only emergency surgeries have gone ahead in the past week.

With files from Mark Quinn


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