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Surgical shutdown at St. Boniface hospital could last weeks: official

WINNIPEG – It could take “weeks” to fix the problem that forced St. Boniface hospital to shut down 14 operating rooms, forcing the cancellation of dozens of elective surgeries so far.

A malfunction in the St. B’s air handling system led to pipes freezing and bursting early Wednesday morning, sending water pouring into several OR’s. Two surgeries were underway at the time, including a cardiac case that was quickly transferred to another hospital.

“Based on the extent of the damage the initial thought was this could take a number of days, I think it’s more likely to be measured in weeks,” Dr. Brock Wright said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “I think we’ll have  a much clearer sense of that in the next 24 hours.”

So far St. Boniface hospital has had to cancel 59 elective surgeries and send urgent cases to Health Sciences Centre and the Grace Hospital. That in turn has forced those hospitals to cancel elective surgeries to make room: the Grace has so far cancelled 9 surgeries and HSC at least 10.

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“We really appreciate the impact canceling elective surgeries has on patients and their families, it can be very distressing,” Wright said.

Wright said the health authority was already working on contingency plans for what to do if the St. Boniface operating rooms are out of action for an extended period of time. Meantime, patients who have emergency surgery in another hospital could be transferred back to St. Boniface for recovery and post operative care due to a shortage of space elsewhere. Wright said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service had put one more ambulances in service to assist with transfers.

St. Boniface hospital staff may be asked to work at other hospitals.

It wasn’t all bad news. St. Boniface hospital’s delivery ward has it’s own operating rooms for Caesarean sections and other urgent child-birth situations, which were not affected by the water leak.

Of the elective surgeries cancelled so far, Wright said there were ear-nose-throat, gynecological, plastic surgery, general surgery, cardiac, vascular and orthopedic.

Wright the mechanical problem that caused the crisis was related a malfunctioning pump, and was not due to the recent freezing weather.

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