Editorial

A responsible approach to CRH's problems

Monday, April 09, 2018

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The Ministry of Health's chronology of the problems plaguing Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) makes for interesting reading and provides the foundation for informed debate on this most unfortunate issue.

According to the document, published in yesterday's Sunday Observer, there had been reports of indoor air quality concerns from the first to fourth floor of the hospital since 2009.

Investigations, the ministry said, were carried out by occupational health and safety officers with assistance from the National Public Health Laboratory environmental engineer.

The general findings were:

1. poor ventilation

2. improper ventilation systems

3. presence of pathogenic organism

4. odour nuisances

5. presence of volatile organic compounds

6. faulty sewage/plumbing

7. improper chemical storage and handling

8. untrained staff/poor worker hygiene

9. inconsistent servicing and maintenance of equipment

Indeed, in two labs in the Pathology Department, we are told, workers complained of respiratory illness attributed to poor ventilation and fume hood use in November 2009.

Almost a year later, in August 2010, workers at the Western Regional Health Authority offices complained of flu-like illnesses and it was found that CO2 levels for the offices were 1,800 parts per million — more than twice the recommended level for indoor air.

The report continues to list a slew of problems from April 2011 through to March 2016 when, in the third air quality episode at the hospital's blood bank, workers complained of smelling chemical coming from the vents; burning of skin, eye and nose; and tightening of the chest.

At that time, it was noted, some workers were seen in Accident and Emergency Department and given sick leave.

Despite efforts to deal with the myriad issues the problems continued. We note, though, that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has concluded, after an environmental hygiene assessment of the hospital, that closing it for complete remediation was not a realistic option.

Noting that the main problem at the hospital appeared to be of biological origin, specifically related to fungal growth in the building envelope, PAHO recommended that remediation should start immediately in a well-planned process that allows working in priority areas.

That is our understanding of what Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is doing, as he and his team at the ministry have seen to the relocation of patients to other hospitals in order to protect them from any possible risk as the remedial work is being done.

That is a most responsible approach to the problem, as opposed to completely closing the facility, as is being advocated by a few people — among them those who neglected to give CRH the full support it needed over the years.

Indeed, we are encouraged that Dr Tufton has remained focused on fixing this problem, despite the attempts by others to use what is a very serious issue to score cheap political points.

The irony is that among those who are now so vocal about the problems at CRH are individuals who, when they need medical attention, seek it overseas.

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