A flood Wednesday morning that closed all 14 operating rooms at St. Boniface General Hospital is creating a cascade effect in the health-care system.
Dozens of surgeries have already been cancelled or postponed and patients are being re-booked at other city hospitals.
It will take weeks to get flooded operating rooms back up and running, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's top medical official said Thursday.
"I don't think this is a situation that will be resolved in days. I think it's more likely to be measured in weeks," said Dr. Brock Wright, vice-president of clinical services and chief medical officer for the WRHA.
"This is a very significant event, to have all 14 operating rooms at St. Boniface out of commission. All of the surgeries in those 14 rooms have been cancelled for now," he said Thursday during a press conference at the WRHA headquarters on Main Street.
"I do want to reassure the public we have the situation very much under control."
'This is a very significant event, to have all 14 operating rooms at St. Boniface out of commission'
St. Boniface's emergency department and in-patient and out-patient services are still open.
Dozens of surgeries have already been postponed at St. Boniface, as well as elective cases at Health Sciences Centre and Grace Hospital, the two hospitals now handling the bulk of the St. Boniface load.
Some patients may be moved back to St. Boniface to recuperate after surgery.
An extra ambulance has been added to the system to accommodate transfers.
Patients can expect dozens more surgeries to be shifted.
"We really appreciate the impact cancelling elective surgeries can have on patients and their families. We are doing everything possible to minimize the number of elective surgeries we have to cancel, and we will work very hard, once the situation improves, to re-book those surgeries as quickly as possible," Wright said, adding he couldn't recall anything like this ever happening before in Winnipeg.
"It is a serious issue. St. Boniface is the second-largest hospital in the province and it's one of two tertiary care hospitals, so to have all the ORs out of commission is a significant event," Wright said.
Two unrelated mechanical glitches happened just before the flooding started and one of the two caused the mess.
At about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, the first glitch surfaced when the air-handling system went down during a routine test of the hospital's backup generator system.
Wright said as far as he knew, there were no reports of power outages at the time that could have contributed to the air-ventilation malfunction or the next thing that happened.
That's when the water-circulation pumps malfunctioned. Some of the coils burst, leaking water into the ORs.
Then some of those coils froze and cracked.
"That resulted later in the morning in water leaking through the ceilings of some but not all the 14 operating rooms. We don't believe the water leakage was in any way related to the cold weather. It was related to the failure of circulating pumps," Wright said.
There is no estimate yet on the cost of repairs, he said.
Only two surgeries were underway when the pipes burst. One involved plastic surgery and the other a cardiac case.
Neither surgery was in the rooms that had water pouring through the ceilings. The plastic surgery was finished and the cardiac case had just started. The cardiac patient was transferred to Health Sciences Centre, where the surgery was performed. The patient is recovering.
Two emergency surgeries Wednesday were transferred to Grace Hospital.
Over the coming days, surgeons will be checking caseloads and deciding which ones will go ahead and where they will be performed.
"Every day until this situation is resolved, anesthesiology and surgery leadership are meeting and deciding what surgeries they'll cancel the next day. We're taking it day by day," Wright said. "We're not cancelling cases far into the future at this point."
Wright said the city's surgical offices are calling patients whose cases are moved or postponed.
Some elective surgeries at other hospitals are being postponed to make room for surgeries from St. Boniface.
Some of St. Boniface's caseload, however, is staying put.
Babies will still be born there and C-sections are still being performed, but only because the OR facilities for obstetrics are located in another part of the hospital.
Some cardiac procedures that aren't done in an operating room, such as angioplasties, will also continue at St. Boniface.