UVM Medical Center reopens most operating rooms following flooding incident

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington on Nov. 23, 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Days after water damage from a burst water pipe forced Vermont’s largest hospital to delay dozens of surgeries, most operating rooms on the Burlington campus are back online, University of Vermont Medical Center officials said Thursday.

The malfunction affected all but two of the 23 surgical rooms in the third floor unit. By Thursday, 18 of those operating rooms were functioning again, and the remaining areas were expected to reopen as early as next week “if things go as planned,” spokesperson Annie Mackin said.

There were no patients in the unit at the time of the flooding, she added.

Mackin said the malfunction delayed an estimated 60 to 70 outpatient surgeries this week. About a dozen of those procedures were moved to the hospital’s Fanny Allen Campus in Colchester. Emergency and inpatient procedures continued in the Burlington building as usual.

The third-floor surgical unit flooded Saturday night after a check valve failed, Mackin said. A common component of plumbing systems, check valves prevent water or gas from flowing backward. When a check valve fails, flooding and burst pipes can sometimes follow.

Mackin said the hospital had not yet estimated the cost of repairs, delayed procedures or damage to the building, but there was no “significant damage” to any operating room equipment. Almost as soon as the flooding began, she said, staff covered stationery equipment with plastic blankets normally used for lifting patients from gurneys to operating tables. The team spent a good part of the weekend moving robotic surgery aids, imaging machines and other expensive equipment out of the affected rooms.

“Although we are very sorry about the surgeries that have needed to be rescheduled, the patient impact is much less severe than it could have been in large part because the teams’ quick action avoided damage to important equipment,” Mackin said.

Separately, UVM Medical Center reopened three more operating rooms at its Colchester campus this week, Mackin noted.

The seven-bed outpatient center closed in 2020 after air circulation problems sickened staff. The Fanny Allen unit now has five open operating rooms, according to Mackin.

This week’s flooding at the Burlington hospital came just days before state regulators were scheduled to take up UVM Health Network’s request to significantly increase service charges for the UVM Medical Center and for Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin.

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