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'We apologize to our veterans': Phoenix VA to resume surgeries in mid-November after issues with water

Veterans have been referred to other hospitals after questions were raised about sterilization of surgical instruments.

PHOENIX — Surgeries at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Medical Center will resume in three weeks after water problems forced the hospital to send patients elsewhere, VA officials said Wednesday.

Operations were halted at least a week ago amid questions about the sterilization of surgical instruments.

Doctors noticed a few packs of instruments had small particles made up of minerals sometimes found in hard water, according to a VA  statement to 12 News. The packs were rejected for use, the VA says. 

"The bottom line is we will always prioritize quality and patient safety,"  Dr. Alyshia Smith, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, said in a prepared statement. 

"This means we may need to stop and make adjustments in processes and procedures." 

The VA did not make any of its leaders available Wednesday for an interview.

Several people familiar with the surgery stoppage confirmed to 12 News that it was linked to problems with the water infrastructure at the hospital. 

The Phoenix VA handles about 100 surgeries a week. A "small number" has resumed,  the VA statement says.

The VA says internal and external experts have worked on the problem for several months.

Hospital officials say they are taking several steps to improve the water quality in the 70-year-old building: installing new filters, modifying the plumbing, and increasing water sampling.

The VA's plans also include a new building for sterilizing instruments.

Elective surgeries will resume the week of Nov. 15. Other surgical specialties will be phased in "incrementally," according to the VA statement.  

In the meantime, veterans are being referred to other VA facilities and community hospitals for surgeries. The Phoenix VA is still performing "a small number," the statement says.

"We apologize to our veterans for any inconvenience caused by this issue and are working closely with each patient to reschedule surgical appointments or arrange for alternate care as needed," the statement says.

In the most recent survey of patients' experience, Arizona's three Veterans Affairs medical centers - in Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott - received three stars out of a possible five.

Half of all VA-rated hospitals received at least four out of five stars.

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