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Pair suspicious of Comox hospital's explanation

A flood St. Joseph's General Hospital says damaged X-ray films years ago has two Comox Valley women concerned.
COMOX VALLEY RESIDENT Yvonne Kafka is concerned about a possible coverup at St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

A flood St. Joseph's General Hospital says damaged X-ray films years ago has two Comox Valley women concerned — and the news is prompting them to go to the RCMP.

According to Eric Macdonald, St. Joe's vice-president of finance, capital and support services, there was a flood in the winter of 2008.

"We had a burst water pipe in the basement of the 38 wing there where our records are stored, and unfortunately a number of our X-ray films from earlier years — these aren't current by any means — were damaged so they were no longer legible," said Macdonald.

"If somebody has a request for their file, we can tell them if there's a missing X-ray or not, but going back to that period, it was about 5,000 film jackets that were damaged."

He added the interpretive reports — reports analyzing the data on the films themselves — were not affected by the flood.

But, Yvonne Kafka, who has a medical history with St. Joseph's, said having the original X-ray film is important for doctors to use for comparisons when diagnosing and for re-reads if a person is misdiagnosed, among other things.

She and Lorna Clark, who also has a medical history with the hospital, question the validity of the flood, citing a possible coverup of the destruction of old mammography films.

Kafka and Clark have been recording their phone conversations with hospital staff and had planned to contact the RCMP about the matter Thursday.

"We're prepared to go to the RCMP," said Kafka Wednesday. "I think this is getting a little bit out of hand, and I think we've got enough information here for the RCMP to go in and, you know, to see if criminal charges should be laid to the right parties here."

Kafka and Clark say the hospital is changing its story, among other allegations.

Clark recorded a phone conversation with herself and the hospital's manager of health records saying the films were disposed of because they were mouldy from the flood, but that she didn't know when the flood occurred because she wasn't at the hospital at that time.

But, Macdonald said there was no mould on the diagnostic imaging films; he said they were damaged instantly by the burst pipe and would have been promptly shredded after hospital staff recorded which files were destroyed by water.

He added that "everything was fully digital by 2003" in terms of X-rays so the files that were damaged would have been from pre-2003 and "really have no relevance clinically at this point and time."

He also pointed out the hospital used to recycle most films over seven years old before a directive from the Ministry of Health in 1997, which asked that all records be kept in case they were needed in a government lawsuit against tobacco companies going on at that time.

Macdonald could not list a specific timeframe for the damaged records.

"It's not a specific time frame; it's just a bunch of patients and they're stored in a numeric sequence and so it could've been different years," he said. "It's hard to say."

Kafka said her mammography films were dated between 2005 and 2008; she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and believes she was misdiagnosed until that point.

She pointed out that mammography films did not go digital in 2003 like the rest of the hospital's diagnostic imaging systems.

Macdonald confirmed Kafka's statement after he looked up when the new system was installed for mammograms.

"Digital mammography system installed in 2008 — was when that got installed and up until that time it was films. I am not entirely sure what portion of films were stored where," said Macdonald. "Up until 2008, they were on film and, potentially I guess, could have been stored in that room."

Kafka acknowledged she has not asked the hospital if her records were damaged, adding she has cut off contact with the hospital due to her frustrations with it over the years.

Due to patient confidentiality, it is up to Kafka to ask for her records, according to Macdonald.

Macdonald said the hospital is "absolutely not" trying to cover anything up, and stressed the hospital will tell a patient whether their film was damaged or not if that patient asks.