No one has been able to determine an exact cause for the air quality issues that led UVM Medical Center to close all five operating rooms at its Fanny Allen campus in Colchester in early December. “We never had readings of carbon monoxide or other gases that were ever at a dangerous level within the building,” UVMMC president and chief operating officer Dr. Stephen Leffler said. “Our external experts think there was some kind of outside source.”
Regardless of what that source may have been, air quality experts, Vermont state officials and an outside occupational health expert have all determined that the operating rooms are safe to use. They’re now scheduled to re-open next week. “We have cases scheduled for Tuesday through Friday,” Dr. Leffler said. “That gives us opportunity to start using the space again and make sure the changes we made are working as expected.”
The changes should counteract any possible future contaminant, whether it’s within the walls of Fanny Allen or not. “We’ve added carbon filters to the (operating room) inflow,” Leffler said. “We’ve added a lot of monitoring. We’re doing work on the hoods from the kitchen, so we’re very confident it’s safe to go back.”
The improvements include a display in the operating room suite that tracks the carbon monoxide level in the air in real time and can automatically trigger alarms. The medical center has bought air sampling canisters and a breathalyzer. Staff members have also helped develop a new event response plan.
Leffler said it’s not clear how much all of these improvements will cost because the health system has not yet received bills for some of them. “But whatever it costs, it was the right amount to spend to keep our patients and staff safe,” he said. “It’s really important to us to do that right. It wasn’t prohibitively expensive, and it’s what we need to do to re-open the Fanny, so it’s worth it.”
During the closure, UVM Medical Center has moved most of the surgeries that were scheduled for Fanny Allen to the main campus in Burlington instead. A medical center official told Local 22 & Local 44 News Wednesday that Fanny Allen’s operating room employees are actually not required to return once it opens again; they may remain in Burlington if they wish. However, the same official also said that most of the staff has chosen to go back to Colchester.