Nunavut woman who flew to N.W.T. for surgery was turned away due to hospital’s equipment issues

Nunavut woman who flew to N.W.T. for surgery was turned away due to hospital's equipment issues

Brenda Ongahak has been waiting for about a year to get surgery on her knee. 

Last week, she travelled from Kugluktuk, Nunavut, to Yellowknife to get that surgery done — only to be told on the day of the procedure that the hospital would be delaying her surgery due to faulty equipment.

The hospital started suspending some elective surgeries on Thursday, said David Maguire, spokesperson for the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority.

On Friday night, the health authority sent a news release saying Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife had suspended or cancelled a “small number” of those surgeries after sterilization equipment malfunctioned at the hospital. Exactly how many procedures will be impacted remains unclear.

Ongahak said she arrived in the Northwest Territories last Tuesday, and went for her pre-operation appointment the next day. On Thursday morning she was in the hospital for her surgery and everything seemed good to go.

“[The doctor] said I was ready to go into surgery once he was done with the other patient … and came back telling me that they have to reschedule me,” she said.

A pain in the knee

Ongahak has arthritis in her right knee and has injured it in the past.

This has made it difficult to take part in the activities she used to love, such as going for walks, volunteering at the recreational complex, and playing with her niece and nephew’s children.

Travelling from Nunavut amid a pandemic requires some forethought, especially when you have five children ranging in age from 15 to 25. 

She says it can be difficult, but she was able to get help from other family members.

Ongahak in Yellowknife, before heading off to the surgery she says she waited about a year to get. (Submitted by Brenda Ongahak)

Recurring sterilization equipment problems

This is not the first time the hospital has had issues with its sterilization equipment.

In 2011, at least 290 surgeries were cancelled or postponed as a precaution after the hospital’s sterilization equipment broke down twice that year, necessitating more than $100,000 in repairs.

In 2017, elective surgeries at Stanton were cancelled when its main sterilizing machine failed.

And just last year, surgeries and other medical procedures at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife were cancelled after the hospital’s CT scanner and sterilizing equipment broke down

The CBC asked the health authority if the incidents in the past were related, and if last week’s incident was related to any of the previous issues. The health authority did not provide a response by the time of publication.

Last October, CBC News learned that water leaks and mould have plagued the new hospital, and that staff repeatedly expressed concerns that vulnerable patients weren’t protected from risks caused by cleaning up those problems. The health authority also has not responded to questions about whether or not those problems are related to last week’s equipment malfunction.

Ongahak says that, overall, she is grateful that the hospital found out about the sterilization equipment issues before going through with her surgery

“I do trust them because I know they should be checking their machines regularly and making sure everything is working,” she said.

“I’m kind of thankful, but then I’m [also] not, because I didn’t have the knee surgery,” she added. “I guess safety first, which is good.”

It is unclear when the sterilization equipment is expected to be up and running again. The health authority has not responded to the CBC’s requests asking how many surgeries will be impacted and when the issues are expected to be fixed.

But Ongahak said she has kept her bag mostly packed in case another surgery date comes along soon.

Stanton Territorial Hospital noticed that its sterilization equipment was malfunctioning on Wednesday. As a result, some elective surgeries are postponed or cancelled, the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority says. (Katherine Barton/CBC)

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