Sterilization and the lack of change

Capital Health is cancelling surgeries because a mystery substance has called into question the safety of the sterilized surgical instruments. To be generous, stuff happens.

But this isn’t the first time we have had such problems in the province. How can we expect cleanliness from an organization that for three decades has not addressed the toxic water situation at the province’s largest hospital?

Capital Health also has, like hospitals from Kentville to Sydney, battled hospital borne superbugs, like C.difficile, which infect patients jeopardizing health and prolonging recovery.

In 2011 Capital Health began a controversial program to recycle 20 types of single-use medical items, from catheters to scalpels. Valley Regional beat Capital Health to the punch when it came to recycling. In 2010 I was asked to drive to another facility to dig through garbage for a particular type of surgical tubing, which the medical staff were willing to clean and re-insert in the patient!

Also in 2011 Capital Health’s own studies found if staff observed proper hand-washing protocols 30 percent of hospital infections could be eliminated. It’s not encouraging to realize staff are mobile infection centres. However, without safe water to wash in, it’s a challenge to be clean and safe. And thinking of staff as carriers we begin to understand why health care workers have so many sick days.

Not to be left out, Capital Health’s neighbor, the IWK, have failed to sterilize instruments used on multiple patients. While families lived in terror of what this meant, the IWK advised patients and patient families not to worry because they double wash everything and were confident that was sufficient. Still, a patient and their loved ones want more than positive-sounding statements from the public relations staff.

It’s interesting that the surgical instruments in question at Capital Health are covered in a fine black dust. A fine black dust appeared overnight on a patient room ceiling at Valley Regional Hospital. At the time, staff thought it was mold from the ventilation system. They were quickly told by managers not to say “mold” because there was no money to eradicate it if true. Patient safety took a backseat to budget. Maybe that’s what happened with these instruments.


Whether it’s mold, water-borne bacteria or some other bacteria growing in improperly cleaned sterilization equipment or something else, it’s not comforting that it happened or that it took health care executives two weeks to release the information to the public. It doesn’t build trust in our new, streamlined health care system if the people in charge continue to operate in the same old ways.

The French have a saying, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to Nova Scotia health care.

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