Sterile processing struggles at Detroit Medical Center date back a decade

After years of sterile processing department issues that potentially put patients at risk of infection, Detroit Medical Center signed over management of sterile processing to Birmingham, Ala.-based Unity HealthTrust, according to The Detroit News.

For years, surgeons and staff at the hospital had logged complaints about dirty or missing surgical instrument trays, according 200-plus pages of emails and reports from DMC obtained by The Detroit News. The emails dated back at least 11 years.

DMC's central sterile processing department is in the basement of DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital, and it sterilizes trays for all five of DMC's Detroit area hospitals after DMC consolidated the departments in 2010.

The problems caused delayed or canceled surgeries at DMC's five hospitals in Detroit.

"We are putting patients at risk frequently and now canceling up to 10 cases this week … promises just aren't cutting it," Joseph Lelli, MD, chief surgeon at DMC's children's hospital, wrote to administrators in 2015, according to the report.

DMC's contract with Unity HealthTrust kicked in June 1. A statement from DMC to The News said the medical center is "working to enhance standardization and efficiency of our sterilization process" and also said "no safety issues or surgical site infections" had been connected to unsterile instruments.

Conrad Mallett, DMC's chief administration officer, told The News "this is something that has to be fixed … what we are not is uncaring. What we are not is negligent. What we are is concerned," he told the paper.

In an emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review, a spokesperson from DMC said, "The Detroit Medical Center leadership, clinicians, and staff are committed to continually improving our performance, and patient safety is always our top priority. We have been working to enhance standardization and efficiency in our sterilization process. According to our internal incident tracking system, there have been no safety issues identified or surgical site infections reported related to central sterile processing. We take this matter very seriously and are focused on sustainable improvement."

The News spent six months investigating sterilization issues at Detroit Medical Center, including poring over more than 200 pages of emails and reports and interviewing physicians, patients, administrators and others. Read the paper's full report here.

Editor's note: This article was updated Aug. 26 at 9:56 am to include a statement from DMC.

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