An unforeseen reason hospitals are pausing surgeries

Many health systems made the strategic choice to suspend elective surgeries during the pandemic, reallocating resources to address the public health crisis. However, in recent months, certain facilities have been forced to pause surgeries for a different, unforeseen reason. 

Becker's has reported on at least three hospitals since October that have paused surgeries due to sterilization issues. HCA Florida's North Florida Hospital in Gainesville suspended elective surgeries for four days beginning Jan. 17 to address an equipment sterilization issue affecting presurgical processes. The hospital rescheduled certain elective procedures "out of an abundance of caution," a spokesperson told Becker's

Providence Santa Rosa (Calif.) Memorial Hospital diverted or paused nearly all elective surgeries in mid-October after two machines in its sterile processing department malfunctioned. The hospital partnered with sister locations in the region to sterilize tools and resumed all surgeries in early November. Mass General Brigham's Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Mass., also temporarily paused elective surgeries Nov. 6 amid issues with sterilization equipment, though the hospital still accepted some emergency cases. The hospital resumed normal operations Nov. 28 and rescheduled appointments for all affected patients. 

"We were able to address the issue promptly and develop interim plans to care for patients," Lynnette Watkins, MD, president and COO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, wrote in a Jan. 1 column for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. 

The hospitals did not share additional details about the cause of the equipment malfunctions. The issues come as some healthcare facilities grapple with aging infrastructure and a shortage of sterile processing staff. In November, Penn Medicine's Lancaster (Pa.) General Hospital requested more sterile processing staff members from its travel agency after state officials cited the facility for failing to ensure sterilization equipment was available for surgeries. 

Editor's note: This article was updated Jan. 25 at 10:25 a.m. CT.

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