Sterilization scandal prompts province to enforce regulations

“We have to step up the pace and take a stronger approach with respect to infection prevention control.”


Province-wide regulations will be introduced to prevent a repeat of a sterilization scandal triggered by a superbug outbreak that resulted in thousands of patients being tested for potential exposure to deadly viruses.

Health Minister Dave Hancock announced yesterday that the province will monitor infection control standards and clarify accountability with health regions to protect patient safety.

“We have to step up the pace and take a stronger approach with respect to infection prevention control,” he said. “It’s serious, it’s something that we need to step in now and really put in place provincial standards.”

The province will also spend $15 million to upgrade or renovate existing health facilities to increase infection standards, he said.

His comments came upon the release of self-reported information from health officials contained in a government review on health policy.

The report was launched after a breakdown in sterilization procedures was discovered in a Vegreville, Alta., hospital earlier this year, leading to patients being tested for possible exposure to HIV or hepatitis.

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said province-wide standards for infection control are long overdue, but he wants an internal police force to enforce standards — which aren’t mentioned in the government’s report.

“There’s lots of talk about monitoring but there’s precious little talk about enforcement,” he said.

New Democrat critic Ray Martin agreed that some form or regulatory body is needed.

“You have to have rules with teeth,” he said. “I really don’t see a compliance mechanism.”

Last month, the Health Quality Council of Alberta found that standard sterilization procedures weren’t being followed across the entire East Central Health region, including tap water being used to clean medical equipment and staff transporting unsterilized equipment in their own cars.

The report blamed the problem on a “culture of frugality” that had been created within hospitals, and internal bickering between hospitals and their regional health board.