All nine operating rooms at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre were temporarily closed Tuesday afternoon after water leaked down from a second-floor construction site.
Four of the operating rooms were flooded and remain closed on Wednesday for assessment, cleanup and possible renovation.
Alberta Health Services said surgery on one patient was wrapping up at the time and was completed as planned.
Power was shut down as a precaution to all the operating rooms, located on the main floor beneath the site, where two operating rooms for scheduled caesarean sections and emergency obstetrical procedures are under construction.
A few nearby rooms on the second floor also had some flooding.
“There’s still some cleanup and reclamation work that needs to be done. It’s hard to speculate, but we’re hoping at least two of those ORs will be functioning for next week,” said Kerry Bales, chief zone officer for Alberta Health Services Central Zone, on Wednesday.
Flooding occurred at about noon on Tuesday causing 11 surgical procedures to be cancelled and deferred. Another 28 did not go ahead on Wednesday.
An average of 48 surgeries per day are performed at the hospital.
“Obviously our first priority is on any surgeries that would be considered urgent — so emergencies, obstetrical cases, and urgent orthopedics. Procedures that are being deferred would be procedures that are not necessarily life threatening, although we completely recognize that for the patients that being deferred it is extremely inconvenient to them unfortunately. We’re trying to make sure we maintain the volumes to the best of our ability.”
He said the hospital is looking at more weekend and evening surgeries and is working to be at full surgical capacity as soon as possible.
“We are operating with a few less operating rooms, but the site is able to maintain the services that it provides. It continues to be a referral centre for the rest of the zone,” Bales said.
Red Deer surgeon Dr. Paul Hardy said that he was told 60 litres a minute of water gushed out for 20 minutes during the mishap. He worried that the hospital would be down two operating rooms for at least six weeks and it will be a struggle for patients and staff.
One of the five remaining operating rooms is only for urology patients.
He said cancer surgery must also go ahead despite the flooding, and OR closures have exposed how severely challenged surgery capacity is at the Red Deer hospital.
“We do 12,000 surgeries a year in Red Deer and we moved probably about 3,000 surgeries to Innisfail and Olds in the last five years and our 12,000 number has remained constant. In other words we thought we were doing a good thing having surgeons travelling away to do these 3,000 surgeries outside of Red Deer and it hasn’t given us any breathing space,” Hardy said.
Cataract surgery, which does not require a stay in hospital, was moved to Innisfail from Red Deer, and day surgery for small procedures are done in Olds.
He said only so much surgery can be done outside Red Deer. For example, surgeons can’t do a bowel resection in a community hospital and leave the patient there.
“We’re kind of hitting a concrete ceiling in terms of other options. All the slack is gone from the system.”
He said more evening and weekend surgery comes with staff burnout and a higher chance of mistakes happening.
Hardy said about four years ago the hospital was at the top of the list for major infrastructure projects when it was bumped. A 2007 plan to expand the Red Deer hospital by adding north and south towers to the site by 2035 includes doubling the number of operating rooms and there’s been no movement on the plan.
He said the two obstetric ORs will help, but more needs to be done soon for Alberta’s fourth largest hospital behind the University of Alberta Hospital and Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, and Foothills Hospital in Calgary.
After he was asked for a surgery update from the Health Minister last October, Hardy hoped some money would come to Red Deer but it was left off the list when funding was announced that month.
Hardy said Red Deer hospital serves Central Alberta and if there is no movement on plans in the next five years it will pose a risk.
“We’re efficient as can be and funded far below the big city hospitals.”