St. Boniface operating rooms to remain closed

Surgical suites could be back in service sometime next week

Winnipeg Health Region
Updated Friday, January 31, 2014

Fourteen operating rooms at St. Boniface Hospital shut down earlier this month due to flooding will remain closed for now, but some of them could be back in service sometime next week, a spokesman for the Winnipeg Health Region said today.

Meantime, scheduled operations slated for St. Boniface will continue to be postponed, while urgent cases are shifted to other hospitals, said Dr. Brock Wright, Senior Vice-President and Chief Medical Officer with the Region.

“We feel for those people affected by this delay, and we want people to know that we are working hard to reschedule everyone as soon as possible,” he said. There is a possibility that some operating rooms could be back in service sometime next week.

The operating rooms were closed Jan. 22 due to flooding caused by a malfunction with water pumps and air handling systems which allowed cold air to come into contact with and crack hot water coils which heat the rooms.   

Crews have been working night and day to get the operating rooms back in service, and it had been hoped some would be ready to go by today. While repairs to the physical environment are complete, testing of the air handling systems that support the operating rooms on Thursday revealed some problems.

“Overnight, facilities management and nursing staff, working with vendors, simulated an occupied state and the air handling system was unable to reliably sustain positive pressure in the operating rooms, which is important from an infection control perspective,” said Wright. “St. Boniface and Regional facilities management staff are working hard to ensure all available expertise is brought to bear on identifying and fixing the problems as quickly as possible.”

Dr. Michel Tétreault, President & Chief Executive Officer of St. Boniface Hospital, said during a press conference today that it was still too early to say what precisely is causing the problem in the ventilation system. “That will happen in the next 24, hopefully, 48 hours,” he said. “Once we are very clear on what the problems are, we can start fixing them.”

Wright and Tétreault said many staff members across the region have been involved in trying to fix the problem and support the shift of patients to different hospitals.  
The closing of the St. Boniface operating rooms represents a loss of approximately 20 per cent of the operating room capacity within the Winnipeg Health Region, and poses a major challenge to the health-care system.

About 266 elective surgical procedures slated for St. Boniface have been postponed since the shutdown, said Wright, noting that the hospital has also performed 26 fewer cardiac operations than it would normally have done during the last 10 days. In addition, about 20 surgical procedures at other hospitals have been postponed in order to make room for more serious cases transferred over from St. Boniface.

Wright said staff members from the Region and all the hospitals have been working to re-book postponed surgeries, and it was hoped the backlog could be eliminated within eight weeks.

Meantime, Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, Victoria, Concordia, Grace and Seven Oaks Hospitals, have all received patients from St. Boniface since the shutdown. In some cases, surgical teams from St. Boniface have accompanied patients to other hospitals, performed surgeries there, and returned the patients back to St. Boniface for care. Additional ambulances are on standby to transport patients between hospitals. The inability to complete certain surgeries has also put stress on ward beds and the intensive care units all across the Region.

Going forward, Wright said the Regional Critical Care Program will work with staff at various hospital sites to explore what more can be done to increase critical care capacity across the Region. In addition, the Regional Cardiac Surgery Program will work closely with staff at HSC to determine if any cardiac surgery can be done over the weekend, and whether HSC is able to gear up from one slate a day of cardiac surgery to two next week. The Regional surgery and anesthesia teams will work with all sites to explore all available operating room capacity, including at Children’s Hospital, and will also consider whether accessing capacity at two private surgical centres is necessary.

In the wake of the decision to keep the operating rooms closed for the time being, Wright said diagnostic interventional and cardiac catheter procedures at St. Boniface will be shifted again, as necessary, to ensure the main diagnostic interventional suite is available for any emergency non-cardiac surgery that cannot be safely transferred from St. Boniface. A cardiac catheter room will be freed up to allow cardiac surgery to treat any catheter patients who have complications that cannot be safely transferred to HSC.

“Our priority remains making sure anyone requiring emergency surgery can be accommodated and that we reschedule the cancelled surgeries as quickly as possible,” Wright said.

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