Sterilization equipment issues at Stanton Territorial Hospital appears to be slowly improving, but odd stains on some equipment “continue to cause concern,” the NWT’s health authority says.
Three machines that sterilize surgical instruments have been malfunctioning since late July. More than a hundred surgeries have been cancelled and the NWT has stopped even trying to book many surgeries until the problem is fixed.
While emergency surgeries at the Yellowknife hospital are said to be unaffected, the sterilization fault is setting back treatment for dozens of patients, prolonging extreme pain in some cases.
The trays in which surgical instruments are sterilized keep coming out with moisture inside them, which means the instruments can’t be stored for later use as the dampness could attract bacteria. That means there’s no stockpile of equipment, which means the number of surgeries has to be reduced.
This week, the territory’s health authority said there had been some improvement as it keeps trying to fix the problem – but there is now an issue with unexpected stains.
“Over the last two to three weeks, the moisture issues have reduced but are not completely fixed,” the health authority wrote in an update posted to its website.
“While moisture issues reduced, issues related to staining on towels and trays coming out of the devices continue to cause concern.
“Staining in general is very light rust-coloured markings on towels that wrap the trays and instruments during the sterilization process.”
While the health authority used the description “rust-coloured,” there was no suggestion that rust itself was any part of the problem.
The authority now says it might be prepared to put up with the staining and use the equipment anyway, following apparent practice elsewhere in Canada.
“In normal operations at Stanton, any type of staining on towels, trays or instruments would lead to them being rejected in the operating room and another set being used instead,” stated the health authority.
“Through research, Stanton has learned that other hospitals in Canada have experienced staining challenges and – through risk assessment and management – have accepted limited staining when it has been proven it is caused by minerals in the water.
“Stanton is currently working on a similar risk assessment and management process. The staining issue continues to be examined to determine whether or not instruments coming with stained towels or trays are acceptable for use, and to determine the cause to eliminate the staining issue.”
Weather is helping
If staff do decide to start carrying out surgeries using instruments from stained trays, the authority said “all patients would be notified before surgery of any potential risks, no matter how limited they may be.”
Meanwhile, hospital officials think the reduction in moisture in some trays is down to the onset of colder, drier weather.
“In the past few weeks, environmental humidity outside Stanton has dropped with the change in weather,” the authority wrote.
“At this point, this is the suspected change that has led to the reduction of the wet pack issue.”
Patients waiting for surgery at Stanton were due to receive updates by mail this week.
The territory said it will try to move as many surgeries as possible to Inuvik while problems at Stanton remain.
Alberta is off the table as an alternative because the province’s hospitals are already struggling, not least because of a spike in Covid-19 cases.