Two months on, Stanton still can’t solve sterilization issue

Last modified: October 6, 2020 at 8:53am

A problem with equipment sterilization first reported in late July remains unsolved at the NWT’s Stanton Territorial Hospital. More than 100 surgeries have been cancelled as a result.

Devices used to sterilize equipment between surgeries are malfunctioning, leaving behind moisture that could attract bacteria. The problem is limiting the availability of surgical instruments.

Urgent and emergency surgeries are continuing, the NWT’s health authority said. (Emergency surgery is a procedure that cannot wait. Urgent surgery “can wait until the patient is medically stable, but should generally be done within seven days,” according to the health authority.)


Other surgeries – those scheduled in advance – have gone ahead “in some cases,” the health authority said, but 124 surgeries have so far been cancelled and rescheduled.

By comparison, around 200 surgeries have gone ahead. Most of those were urgent or emergency cases.

“The goal is to limit patient impact and use the available resources to complete surgeries that are possible now,” said the health authority.

The health authority made no suggestion that the equipment malfunction would compromise its ability to handle cases of Covid-19, should any emerge in the NWT that require hospitalization.

However, the authority said planned surgeries like joint replacements weren’t going ahead.


Such surgeries require large, heavy equipment, the authority said, which “is consistently coming out of the [sterilization] devices with moisture present.”

That moisture is a dealbreaker because it can attract bacteria, meaning the equipment can’t be stored for future use – preventing Stanton from building up a stockpile of sterilized surgical instruments.

Tonsillectomies and cataract surgeries, by contrast, require different types of smaller equipment and can more easily go ahead.

‘No definitive cause’

The health authority said the problem had hit Stanton’s sterilization equipment “suddenly” in late July and had affected all three such machines at once.


Figuring out why that happened, and how to stop it, has consumed the past two months. That work continues.

Hospital staff are using a specialist lab in Ontario to carry out water quality testing related to the moisture in the sterilization devices.

Each day, staff are trying a range of different settings and approaches on the devices to see if they can trigger any change that will solve the moisture issue.

So far, the only success has been in working out a way to sterilize some smaller, lighter instruments.

“No definitive cause has been found to date,” the health authority stated.

The authority says it is now devising backup plans. That work includes deciding whether to carry out some procedures elsewhere in the NWT, and whether instruments can be sent for sterilization elsewhere in the NWT or Canada.