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North Florida Regional Hospital abruptly suspends surgeries amid concerns over sterile equipment

Fresh Take Florida

North Florida Regional Medical Center, one of the state’s largest hospitals, is abruptly suspending surgeries for at least four days to deal with significant concerns about its processes to sterilize surgical instruments.

The suspension affects operations in Gainesville at one of the flagship hospitals for HCA Florida Healthcare, which has 510 beds, sources said. It treats more than 50,000 patients each year and has more than 1,000 employees.

The hospital announced its decision internally late Wednesday. A spokeswoman said in a statement Thursday the move was proactive and described it only as an unspecified “operational matter.”

“We are proactively addressing an operational matter at HCA Florida North Florida Hospital that resulted in the need to temporarily reschedule certain elective surgeries and have notified impacted patients,” communications director Lauren Lettelier said. “Our commitment has always been and continues to be to provide the highest quality of safe patient care to the citizens of North Central Florida and the surrounding area. We thank everyone affected for their patience and understanding.”

Lettelier declined to answer questions or provide any further information.

The hospital directed Alachua County Fire Rescue not to transport patients to the hospital for surgeries but told the agency to disregard that warning early Thursday, Assistant Fire Rescue Chief Misty Woods said.

The hospital’s concerns involve the activities of its Sterile Processing Department, the unit that cleans and sanitizes equipment, such as drills and other precision medical tools, that are reused after surgeries, sources said. Its chief medical officer told doctors and others the hospital wants to ensure it has sufficient numbers of instruments that have been sterilized properly before it reopens its surgical bays.

The hospital said it began diverting emergency surgeries to other area hospitals late Wednesday. Some cardiac surgeries were still scheduled to take place Thursday at the hospital. It said it hopes to resume all types of surgeries as early as the weekend and said it may only be functioning at half its expected capacity next week.

UF Health Shands did not immediately have any information on the transfer plans from the neighboring hospital, communications manager Peyton Wesner said.

Such suspensions are highly unusual but not unprecedented at U.S. hospitals coping with issues involving sterilization procedures and equipment. At least some surgeries were suspended for those reasons last year at hospitals in California, Texas, Massachusetts, and Kansas. In southwest Colorado, patients in December sued Mercy Hospital, an 82-bed acute care facility, over allegations they contracted infections about the time that Mercy suspended elective surgeries two years earlier.


This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at sandovalv@freshtakeflorida.com. You can donate to support our students here.