Hospital turns to other facilities for instrument sterilization

With all three of its steam sterilization machines broken down Thursday, Royal Inland Hospital cancelled six operations slated for today and was finding other places to clean surgical instruments.

Hospital administrator Marg Brown said instruments were being taken to the privately run Kamloops Surgical Centre and Shuswap Lake General Hospital as a back up plan.

"Our three steam sterilizers are down and we're working on repairing them," she said.

"We've repaired them over the past two weeks. But we continue to have problems with them. . . . They're the last part of processing instruments. Our pans are coming out with particulate matter on them."

The hospital has also switched to using disposable surgical supplies as much as possible. Brown didn't know the cost of the back-up plans. Her first priority was to ensure patients get their surgeries.

"Our priority is our patients and we're doing what we can to accommodate them."

Thursday's surgical slate went ahead, but the sterilization problem resulted in six surgeries being cancelled Friday. Those patients will be rebooked.

A new autoclave costing almost $200,000 is on order and should be arriving within a week, she said. It will take several days to install and set up.

"It's state of the art, double the capacity of one we presently have."

RIH's sterilization unit has been plagued with problems in the past several months. Surgeries were cancelled and rebooked in February after instruments were found with bits of debris on them.

Similar problems cropped up again a few weeks later. Then police were called in on one instance of surgical equipment being deliberately contaminated.

That incident was investigated by RCMP but no one was charged.

Interior Health had done a review of the sterilization unit in 2008 and the report recommended replacement of the department at that time.

Now it's going to cost as much as $8 million to revamp the unit and upgrade the equipment. Interior Health officials have insisted it's a top priority.

"It's discouraging, it's frustrating. But the redevelopment of CSD has been and will be a priority for IHA," said Brown.

"The equipment we have is regularly maintained. It's aged. We are trying to pinpoint the problem."

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Terry Lake said the hospital is doing everything it can to get the machines working. And the Health Services Ministry is well aware of the need for an upgraded sterilization department at RIH.

"The ministry is working with them to find out what can be done," he said.

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