Scandal report cites ‘culture of frugality,’ but Hancock says budget not to blame
Health Minister Dave Hancock denies that budget cuts in health care led to huge compromises in patient safety, even though a scathing report found a “culture of frugality” resulted in hospitals using tap water to sterilize equipment.
“There is no excuse not to apply the appropriate resources to your No. 1 priority, and your No. 1 priority is patient care,” he said. “This is not an issue that can be thrown back on the budget process.”
His remarks came immediately after the Health Quality Council of Alberta released its findings involving infection control issues in hospitals east of Edmonton.
In March, an outbreak of a superbug at St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Vegreville, Alta., resulted in thousands of patients being testing for potential exposure to HIV and hepatitis.
The hospital later ignored a public health order to close a sterilization room after reports surfaced claiming surgical equipment was being reused while still containing flecks of blood and flesh.
The 66-page report into the scandal determined that standard sterilization procedures were not followed across the entire health region, including equipment being reused after a quick wipe, nurses not wearing masks, rooms littered with cardboard and staff transporting unsterilized equipment in their own cars.
One hospital had giant holes in the ceiling that hadn’t been fixed in years while staff lacked adequate training, not understanding potential contamination risks.
“Staff were expected to ‘make do’ with what was available,” the report reads.
Hancock quickly fired the board overseeing the region yesterday, and appointed two government administrators. Surgical equipment will now be sterilized outside of the region, he said.
“I’m very concerned about what I read in this report,” he added.
Liberal health critic Laurie Blakeman said widespread budget cuts in the 1990s contributed to the alarming findings by forcing hospitals to cut corners.
“I think Albertans want to feel safe, and what they just learned is that the government chose frugality over patient safety,” she said.
But Hancock deflected any wrongdoing, explaining that a long-standing turf war between the hospital and the board caused responsibilities to be fumbled.
The New Democrats blamed the government’s 1994 Regional Health Act for failing to establish infection prevention standards.
NDP health critic David Eggen said responsibilities were relentlessly downloaded from the province to local boards, causing confusion and a lack of accountability.
“The Conservative government has not made public safety its top priority,” he said.