Two years after dirty surgical tools prompted an RCMP investigation and delayed surgeries, Interior Health unveiled a new $10.75-million sterilization department on Friday at Royal Inland Hospital.
Not operational for another five weeks, the state-of-the-art department will make such incidents a thing of the past and reduce surgical wait times, said Marg Brown, the hospital's health services administrator.
Brown wasn't in a position to say how much wait times were projected to go down.
"We'd like to look at that. That's still a moving target," she said.
The department's five new sterilization units will clean more than 11,000 surgical tools from RIH and hospitals in Merritt and Chase better and faster than before.
The current department has three units but it's not unusual to only have one working at a time, said Brown. The new technology will make a dramatic difference.
"I think, with some of the equipment we were using and the processes (in place), that contributed to the incidents we were having," said Brown, referring to the dirty surgical tools.
Those incidents prompted Interior Health to conduct a thorough review of the hospital's reprocessing unit, Brown said at the press conference.
The resulting report made several recommendations, the most significant being a department redesign and the purchase of new equipment, she said.
Phase one — with its spotless floors, shiny metallic surfaces and fake ambient windows — is done. Becky Geeson, the department's co-ordinator, said a new, dedicated elevator is being installed to allow speedy delivery of surgical tools between the department and operating rooms.
Renovations to the supply room, and a new case cart delivery system will now occur, she said. This second phase will be complete early next year.
Geeson's staff toured the facility along with the media, Mayor Peter Milobar and MLAs Terry Lake and Kevin Krueger. One of the technicians couldn't help expressing her feelings out loud.
"This is awesome," she said.
The department is the backbone of any hospital, said Geeson. If a dirty tool makes it into a surgical room, it can cause grievous harm to a patient.
When equipment is breaking down and tools aren't being properly cleaned, it can also kill staff's morale, she said. The increased workload causes stress that only heightens the problem.
"This really disrupts their flow of work. If they have to redo everything, they aren't going to get their instruments done for the next day's surgery," said Geeson.
The new department is unlike anything Geeson has ever seen and should make a world of difference, she said.
Surgeries were cancelled at the hospital in early 2010 when blood and bone fragments turned up on surgical instruments in an incident of tampering at RIH's operating rooms.
RCMP conducted more than 120 interviews on the matter, but it went unresolved.
The province and the Thompson Regional Hospital District provided funding for the project.