FDA warns hospitals could face shortage of critical surgical tools

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When you go to a hospital for surgery, you expect the doctors to have the necessary tools for the procedure, but that may not be the case for some.

Hospitals around the nation could be facing shortages of surgical tools due to the closure of sterilization plants across the nation.

Sterilization is a daily process at hospitals and other facilities. It’s used to remove bacteria from medical and surgical tools. It’s also something you probably don’t think about often, but its a vital process for any health care organization.

According to the FDA, ethylene oxide gas is the only method for cleaning many devices made from plastic, metal, or glass. About half of all sterilized surgical tools in the U.S. are cleaned with this gas, but when a person is exposed to high levels, it can be dangerous. The National Institute of Health says dangerous levels of this gas can cause certain types of cancer including leukemia and lymphoma.

That’s why some of these plants have been shut down. A Sanford Health employee says they aren’t affected by this shortage because they have their own sterilization unit.

About 2 years ago, they moved away from the EtO sterilization process and switched to a low-temperature hydrogen peroxide treatment to replace it.

Sanford Health Manager of Sterile Processing Brandi Everding says, “In the fact that our first goal is patient safety so we don’t do direct patient care however we are working for the patient and making sure that those items are sterile and ready for the surgeons and doctors to use and it’s a huge support for the medical center and those clinical areas.”

Sanford Health is in the process of getting a whole new sterilizing processing unit. Right now they have been sterilizing all of their surgical tools in a mobile unit.

Everding says without these units, it could cause many issues with transporting the equipment and getting them back in a timely manner for surgeries. And the process for sterilizing is timely.

“It takes about 4 hours for when an item is brought to us and to turn that item over and essentially get it cleaned, prepped, assembled, and sterilized. It has a cool-down period and we monitor every single item that we sterilize and every load. After that, it’s able to be sent back to the end-user.”

Hospitals use various methods to sterilize their tools. Sanford Health’s new unit will open in about 5 months.

Sanford Health, CHI St. Alexius, and Trinity Hospital all have their own sterile processing units. The FDA has urged hospitals to inventory their supplies and alert government officials if they face major shortages.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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