Ann Arbor VA says solution close to surgical tool woes

Joel Kurth
The Detroit News

Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Health System leaders said Thursday they’re close to correcting problems with surgical instruments that have delayed and canceled surgeries.

Since November, the hospital that provides care to 65,000 veterans annually has experienced intermittent problems with contaminated trays of surgical instruments.

“We have a sense we are getting better,” said Dr. Eric Young, acting director of the hospital. “We want to get back to full normal operations as soon as possible.”

Young’s comments came during a media tour of the hospital’s Sterile Processing Service, which cleans and sterilizes tens of thousands of instruments and assembles them into “cases” for surgery. The tour followed a meeting about the issue last week with Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.

Surgeries were canceled after nurses found tiny “particulate” spots on instrument trays, but Young stressed the tools themselves weren’t unclean. Nor have patients been infected, he said.

The problems initially arose in November, when nurses noticed tiny spots that moved about 60 surgeries to the University of Michigan Medical Center. Administrators then believed the problems followed a water main break that may have left particulates in water used to clean the instruments.

But the issues returned. In March, the hospital system moved all cardiac surgeries — about three to five per week — to UM Medical Center.

Experts have since replaced water filters, used reverse osmosis water and explored several other potential sources.

Even with the problems, the surgery cancellation rate is within the average range for all VA hospitals, about 5-8 percent, said Derek Atkinson, public information officer for the Ann Arbor VA.