Despite surgeries resuming, sterilization issues may continue into the future at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
While issues with wet packs — when humidity causes moisture to form in the packages surgery equipment is kept in — have been solved, issues with mineral staining are ongoing.
The root cause is not fully determined, according to Health Minister Julie Green, the presence of certain minerals, copper and iron, in the hospital’s water supply is causing staining of some fabrics.
It doesn’t create a sterilization issue, because the equipment itself isn’t being stained.
“What is really important to know is that we have a very rigorous quality-control process to do the sterilization of instruments that are used in surgery to confirm that they are, in fact, sterile and that people are not being infected by the instruments that are used in their operations.”
Health Minister Julie Green says the issue will likely continue to occur because of seasonal changes to the hospital’s water supply.
“The staff at Stanton would like to put this issue behind them, but unfortunately, this is historically a recurring problem that is most often occurring in April and May and aligns with the spring melt and the difference in the water chemistry,” she told the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.
Issues with the sterilization machines which clean surgery equipment between operations first began last July, when the hospital’s three sterilizer units simultaneously started producing instruments contaminated by moisture.
These instruments were considered contaminated rather than sterile because moisture can attract bacteria.
This led to the cancellation of elective surgeries which caused “enormous anxiety and sometimes physical suffering for many residents who were left waiting,” according to Kevin O’Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake.
When the sterilizer was shut down, there were 124 pending surgeries, which have all been completed except for those people who asked for later dates in the spring, according to Green.
Green added the hospital stopped adding people to the waitlist when the sterilizer was shut down to avoid the list getting too big, and doesn’t know how many people may have missed out on getting on the waitlist.
Testing and consulting for the sterilization issue cost around $50,000 to date for equipment testing and consultant expertise.
“As a matter of fact, it could have been more but for the fact that the sterilizer manufacturer has been providing expensive support throughout this time, much of which has been provided at no cost,” said Green.
Green says the GNWT has purchased new equipment for the sterilization service in the form of new trays that will require less use of towels and fabrics, which should mitigate the mineralization issue in the future.