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Cancer Center Officials: Patient Care Continued Despite Faulty Chiller

Refuting recent media reports about interruptions in patient care that were said to be caused by a downed chiller unit, Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute officials Wednesday sought to “clarify” facts about inoperable equipment and the hospital’s failure to deliver chemotherapy and radiation treatment or assist patients in seeking care off-island.

The bottom line, they said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, is that the hospital’s radiation and CT machines are working but are not being operated until a new chiller is brought in; chemotherapy services have been uninterrupted since the chiller when down on Oct. 21; and doctors have continued to communicate with patients about seeking alternate treatment off-island, while also following up personally and with other medical professionals.

Officials said the air-conditioning unit that went down within the Schneider Regional Medical Center is more than 10 years old and is obsolete, with parts being ordered secondhand since they are no longer being made by the original manufacturer.

The unit broke down a little more than a week ago and SRMC Chief Executive Officer Bernard Wheatley said that his staff “immediately” began working with the supplier out of Puerto Rico and certain machines were taken offline in order to prevent any damage that would be caused as a result of the air conditioning not working, he said.

The first set of parts for the unit did come in last Thursday and, by Friday into Saturday, the unit was working, according to SRMC Vice President of Facilities Darryl Smalls. The unit then failed again, with different parts malfunctioning, and the hospital moved to bring in a rental chiller that Smalls said is expected on-island by Friday.

Kimelman Cancer Institute oncologist Dr. Samuel Hughes said that once it became clear on Monday that the chiller was still down, he made a “blanket recommendation” to his patients to seek alternate treatment, but so far, has only counted one that has gone off-island.

“A week break in a patient’s treatment, for the vast majority of diagnoses, in no way decreases their survival,” Hughes said. “When you talk about an over two week break, there could be some concerns.”

Hughes said that on Monday, he called the patients. “I broke them down by their diagnoses, because some are more time sensitive than others, and so I talked to patients that I was concerned about and make sure their care started right away.”

Smalls said that a manufacturer’s representative would be flying in Thursday to work on the existing chiller and see if additional repairs could bring it back online until a new one comes in. Long term, he added, the hospital has applied for a grant through the U.S. Interior Department to purchase three new chillers, one of which will be dedicated to the cancer institute.

The grant process has been ongoing for several months, officials said, adding that they have been trying to be proactive about replacing aging equipment before it is anticipated to fail.

Officials said chemotherapy services have continued on the second floor of the hospital.

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