George Washington University Hospital operating-room ‘malfunction’ halts surgery


George Washington University Hospital doctors were forced to halt surgery on a patient last week because of a “malfunction” in the operating room’s humidity control system. (Caleb Jones/AP)
April 23, 2013

Doctors at George Washington University Hospital were forced to halt surgery on a patient last week because of a “malfunction” in the operating room’s humidity control system, the second operating-room problem in two months, hospital officials said.

No injuries were reported. The D.C. Health Department is investigating, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Last week’s incident took place April 15. A procedure on a patient had to be stopped because there was a “malfunction in the humidity control system that serves OR #15,” according to a hospital statement. The electronic humidity controls were immediately turned off manually and the system remains off “while the issue is corrected,” the statement said.

The patient was moved to another operating room for the surgery, spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said. A similar situation took place in March in a different operating room, he said.

Hospital officials have been slow to respond to requests for information. Despite repeated inquiries, Lisa McDonald, the hospital’s director of marketing, said officials would not be providing additional details.

Federal regulators and the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, require hospitals to maintain certain temperature, humidity and airflow levels in operating rooms to keep patients comfortable and to prevent bacterial growth and infection. Excessive humidity, for example, can also affect the integrity of wrapped sterile instruments and supplies.

The 371-bed for-profit hospital is owned and operated by a partnership between George Washington University and a subsidiary of Universal Health Services of King of Prussia, Pa., one of the nation’s largest health-care management companies.

Anton Sidawy, chairman of the surgery department at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, an independent physicians group that delivers care in 12 hospitals, said hospital officials told surgeons that a contractor was working on the humidity control equipment.

Hospital officials “assured us now that they got firm assurance from the contractor that this is taken care of,” said Sidawy, who said doctors were “very upset” about what happened. “We raised a lot of issues, and we were assured that we shouldn’t be getting this again.”

He said the patient involved in the Monday incident was having elective surgery and “is doing fine.”

Under D.C. law, hospitals are required to report unusual incidents that have an adverse effect on patients, said Carmen Johnson, a District assistant attorney general. The Health Department received no reports from the hospital about either incident and became aware of them after an inquiry from The Washington Post, health officials said.

Sharon Lewis, program manager for the Health Department division that inspects and licenses hospitals and health-care facilities, said she was not aware of similar issues at other D.C. hospital operating rooms.

Spokeswoman Mahlori Isaacs said the department is “currently working with the hospital to determine whether these alleged incidents were something that should have come to the attention of the Health Department.”

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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