Ongoing issues with equipment sterilization mean joint replacement surgeries still can’t take place in Yellowknife, though other forms of surgery are now going ahead.
Three malfunctioning sterilizers have led to the cancellation of dozens of surgeries since late July. The sterilizers have produced damp or stained packs of equipment that can’t be stockpiled for later use, limiting the number of surgeries that can go ahead.
In an update posted to its website on Thursday, the NWT’s health authority said the sterilizers’ performance had recently improved but was not yet fully back to normal.
“Surgical capacity is steady and all surgeries that are possible at this time are being completed,” that update read.
The health authority said the number of equipment packs coming out wet has been “significantly reduced” but there are still some issues with staining.
A menagerie of experts, ranging from the manufacturer’s technicians to chemical engineers, has spent months examining the sterilizers, fitting replacement parts, and trying everything to get the dampness and staining to stop.
The latest plan involves acquiring new equipment trays for the sterilizers. The rigid trays are said to be less susceptible to the current problems than wrapped packs of surgical instruments.
In the past two weeks, 97 surgeries have taken place at Stanton. In all, 464 surgeries have gone ahead since July 23, when the issues were first identified.
Inuvik took care of five surgeries diverted from Yellowknife between December 7 and December 11. The health authority says Stanton is now able to go ahead with most surgeries so Inuvik should no longer be needed as a backup.
Of 124 originally cancelled surgeries, 91 have been “completed or scheduled,” the health authority said, without further breaking down that number or stating how far ahead surgeries are being scheduled. The average wait time for patients whose surgeries were cancelled is unclear.
Meanwhile, joint replacements still cannot go ahead. They rely on larger surgical instruments that are currently experiencing the most sizeable problems in the sterilizers.
The health authority says 17 people are on the waiting list for joint surgery. Fourteen are from the NWT and the remaining three are from Nunavut.
Ordinarily, they could be sent to Alberta for joint surgery. However, rising Covid-19 numbers in the province have reduced surgical capacity.
Alberta is “not an available contingency at this time,” the health authority’s update bluntly stated.
Circulating that update via Twitter on Thursday, NWT health minister Julie Green summed up the situation by saying “technicians are working on it” and “steady progress has been made in reducing the waiting list.”