Many people simply take it for granted that a hospital will have the necessary clean equipment on hand to deal with whatever situations might arise during surgery. However, an unusually high number of errors at The Detroit Medical Center’s Midtown hospitals is giving many patients pause.
These hospitals have been plagued with serious problems pertaining to the proper cleaning and sterilization of surgical instruments and other tools. According to the Detroit News, surgeons and staff members at the hospitals have been complaining for more than a decade about instruments being broken, improperly cleaned and even missing altogether.
Among the complaints are operation problems that range from the fairly routine, such as appendectomies, to serious operations such as spinal fusions and brain surgeries. Some patients had to remain under anesthesia for as long as an hour while staffers scrambled to replace instruments. Others woke up from anesthesia to find out that their operation had been canceled at the last minute – after they had already been put under.
Some of the more shocking cases involve children. For example, open-heart surgery on a 7-month-old girl was interrupted last January when it was discovered that a tube leading to the bypass machine was still clogged with blood from an earlier operation at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Old blood and bone can trigger infections, sepsis and even death in patients. That particular hospital registered 186 complaints of dirty, incomplete or missing instrument sets in just a 17-month period.
The problem that has the system on the brink of collapse, appears to stem from Receiving Hospital’s Central Sterile Processing Department. This basement department is responsible for cleaning the instruments used at all five of the DMC center campus hospitals, which carry out a combined total of more than 37,000 operations each year.
The department employs 71 technicians who are paid $18 an hour to clean thousands of instruments each day, placing them in sterile “case carts” and bringing them to operating rooms in just a few hours.
Poor sterilization accuracy rate
Although accuracy rates for hospital sterilization are not publicized, emails from DMC indicate that June 2014 saw 95 percent of instruments being delivered without any problems. This is a rate of 50,000 errors for every million instruments. Compare this to the goal of just 3.4 errors per million that most sterile processing managers aim for, and you’ll see that it’s an unforgivable 15,000 times worse.
Doctors voicing complaints, forced to improvise
Four doctors who wished to remain anonymous agreed that the problems at DMC are unusually frequent, occurring at least once a month versus the less than once a year norm of other hospitals.
One doctor said: “Instruments are getting lost. Instruments are getting dirty. Instruments are not available. It’s a surgeon’s nightmare. It’s not the way it should work. I cannot do surgeries with my bare hands. … We are running out of tricks to work around this. You can only improvise so much.”
Surgeons forced to use duct tape to repair instruments
Another surgeon said that he had stopped filing complaints because they didn’t seem to solve anything. He added that he had occasionally had to use duct tape to fix broken instruments during operations. A third doctor claims to have had to cancel as many as 40 operations during the past two years as a result of instrument problems.
A 2014 email obtained by the Detroit News indicated that members of the Ophthalmology group were so fed up with the situation that they were threatening to perform their surgeries in other centers.
Former sterilization manager, Lukeysih Hall, wrote in a memo to the owner of DMC that she considered herself a whistleblower, and that administrators had not given her support to make changes.
According to the Pharma Death Clock there have been more than half a million surgery-related deaths in this country since 2000, with a further 7 million people dying due to hospital errors. Can’t the professionals in charge of the biggest life-and-death moments most people will ever have to face do better than this? News like this drives home the importance of boosting your immune health to try to reduce the chances of getting sick in the first place.
* * *