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Hospital cuts OR downtime

Surgeries at St. B expected to restart sooner after flood

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Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press. 
St Boniface Hospital

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Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press. St Boniface Hospital

Surgeries could resume at St. Boniface General Hospital sooner than originally thought.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Friday repairs to water-damaged operating room suites could be completed in one to two weeks. A day earlier, it feared the ORs could be down much longer.

Dr. Brock Wright, the WRHA's chief medical officer, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the new timeline. It comes as maintenance and repair crews have had more time to assess the damage.

The hospital's 14 operating rooms -- representing a fifth of the city's surgical capacity -- have been closed since early Wednesday morning when that area's heating and ventilation systems failed. Only two of the ORs were in use at the time.

Water-filled coils that control the temperature above the operating room areas froze when exposed to cold air. Pumps that circulate water through the coils also failed. When the heat came back on, water began leaking through the burst coils, spilling down onto two ORs. Most of the rest of the damage was confined to hallways and ancillary rooms.

As of Friday, about 130 elective or planned surgeries and 20 cardiac and diagnostic-imaging procedures had been cancelled as a result of the OR closures. They will be re-booked as soon as possible, Wright said.

Hospital officials will meet throughout the weekend to deal with the ongoing surgical crunch caused by the elimination of operating room capacity in the province's second-largest hospital. Other city hospitals have had to handle urgent and emergency surgeries normally performed at St. B.

"If you don't hear from us (this weekend) you can assume that things are pretty stable," Wright told reporters Friday afternoon.

Stephen Cumpsty, director of capital and property management at St. Boniface General Hospital, said the burst heating coils are being repaired and will eventually be replaced.

Fortunately, he said, there was little damage to the drywall and insulation in the OR areas. About 50 ceiling tiles are being replaced. Little damage was sustained to the ORs themselves. The majority of the coils are located in hallways so damage is minimized in the event of a breakdown. Twenty-six of the 30 coils in the area were damaged.

Once all of the repairs are done, the area will have to be cleaned, all of the equipment that was removed will have to be tested and put back into place and formal inspections will have to be carried out before surgeries can resume.

Cumpsty said the hospital is still trying to pinpoint the cause of the system breakdown.

"In the investigation, we're hypothesizing that a number of systems went down simultaneously (including backups)," he said Friday.

Cumpsty said the age of the heating and ventilation systems -- at roughly 20 to 22 years old -- is not an issue.

"They are in good shape" and receive regular preventative maintenance, he said.

"We don't feel that the age of the infrastructure was the issue. It was more a collection of normally unrelated events occurring simultaneously that caused the failure."

The hospital has yet to estimate how much the repairs will cost.

Urgent and emergency surgeries normally performed at St. Boniface General are being done mainly at Health Sciences Centre and Grace Hospital. The WRHA has deployed extra ambulances to ferry patients between hospitals.

St. Boniface generally performs around 30 to 40 elective (non-emergency) surgeries per day. Cancellation of these surgeries is expected to continue well into next week. So far, the hospital is only cancelling a day or two worth of elective surgeries at a time.

Wright said, for now, any patients who are awaiting surgery at St. Boniface the next day should get in touch with their surgeon's office if they haven't already been contacted.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2014 A3

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