Investigation of equipment sterilization issues at Halifax hospitals continues

HALIFAX – More than 300 patients have had their surgeries postponed at a Halifax hospital since Monday as issues persist with equipment sterilization.

Karen Mumford, the senior director of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, said Thursday that little is known so far about where and how small flecks of black debris are making their way onto sterilized trays and containers at the Halifax Infirmary.

“We know they’re of a metallic nature,” she said. “The source of where they’re coming from has not been confirmed yet and we are sending them off for further detailed analysis.”

Owen Fitzgerald of Sydney, N.S. is one of the 312 patients whose surgery has been postponed. He and his wife were making their way to Halifax on Wednesday when he received a call informing him that his open-heart surgery scheduled for the next morning had been cancelled.

“It’s like your life is being put on pause,” said Fitzgerald, who had been waiting for months to have the surgery.

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According to Mumford, there’s also an issue with sterilized equipment at the Victoria General Hospital, where some discoloration of wraps used to cover the sterilized equipment has been noticed.

“We don’t know the source of the problem yet,” she said. “We do have a sterilization specialist on site with us and he is continuing to do his investigation on that.”

Mumford said the health authority is also reaching out to other centres across Canada that have experienced similar issues to ask what the problem was and how it was fixed.

She said in the meantime sterilized equipment is being brought in from other sites.

“We’re partnering with several different health-care facilities across the province,” she said. “At this point in time, we have used some capacity at Kentville, Truro, Dartmouth General and the IWK.”

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine said a more sustainable plan is in the works.

“We’re now at the point where we’re looking at [whether there] are temporary options, or do we have to go into replacement mode?” he said.
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The options available are expected to take some time to implement.

Fitzgerald said while he’s glad the issue is being addressed, he is worried about the impact the wait could have on his health.

“I can wait a bit, but the longer I wait, the more my health will deteriorate. Then it makes it more challenging, the recovery, the surgery they do,” he said.

Fitzgerald shared his frustration in his blog Journey of the Heart, which he created as a way to share his 18-month journey to the open heart surgery.

“There’s a lot of planning, a lot of worrying, wondering, a lot of unknowns, and that’s why I put this blog online,” he said. “We’ll just have to be patient.”

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