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Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday said he “dramatically cut the problems” with dirty or missing surgical instruments when he was president and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center.

In his first statements since The Detroit News published the results of an investigation last week into a decade of complaints about surgical instruments at the DMC, Duggan said instrument sterilization was a “huge point of emphasis” when he ran the hospital system from 2004 to 2012.

“There was nothing in The Detroit News that had any specifics regarding my time at the DMC beyond general statements but ... every major hospital system in the country knows processing surgical instruments is a very human and very complex process,” said Duggan, responding to questions during a media event in northeast Detroit about expanded bus service.

Duggan’s remarks followed statements of “no comments” from his staff last week after The News published a two-day series detailing doctor complaints about dirty instruments. The issues centered on the five hospitals in the DMC’s Midtown campus: Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Detroit Receiving, Harper University, Hutzel Women’s and DMC Heart hospitals.

Based on more than 200 pages of emails and internal reports and dozens of interviews, the articles showed improperly sterilized tools complicated operations from appendectomies and brain surgeries to cleft palate repair and spinal fusions, kept patients under anesthesia for up to an hour as instruments were replaced and canceled dozens of operations at the last minute, some after anesthesia was administered.

Emails printed in the articles did not directly overlap with Duggan’s tenure. But they repeatedly referred to problems as longstanding, including a 2013 email from Children’s Hospital of Michigan chief surgeon Joseph Lelli that asked: “Who has the will to solve this problem that has not been solved in the 11 years I have been at CHM?”

Duggan said that during his tenure he met weekly with his DMC cabinet to measure the performance of sterilization and didn’t think the DMC’s issues were any worse than other large hospitals.

“I took it very seriously when I was there,” Duggan said.

“I have no information about what has happened the last four years and none of the emails related to my tenure, so I don’t know how to react to it.”

Duggan’s comments came two days after federal and state regulators ended an on-site inspection of the DMC, prompted by The News’ findings. The investigation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs could last several more weeks.

In 2010, Duggan combined three sterilization departments into one at Detroit Receiving that cleans more than 20,000 instruments per week at all five hospitals in the DMC center campus.

The consolidation did not expand the size of the staff or sterilization facilities, leaving about 70 sterile technicians to clean instruments for the system. Four unions represent the workers.

Duggan said the merger streamlined services. He said he worked closely with “teams of surgeons who helped redesign the process,” established a computer system to track which employees cleaned equipment and personally responded if doctors complained about dirty or missing instruments.

“We hit our internal numbers for sterilization. We dramatically cut the problems,” Duggan said.

JKurth@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @joeltkurth

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