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Capt. Jennifer Fielding, a nurse anesthetist, pushes a simulated patient to the surgical theater during a trauma care execise at Misawa Air Base, Japan, on May 20, 2021.

Capt. Jennifer Fielding, a nurse anesthetist, pushes a simulated patient to the surgical theater during a trauma care execise at Misawa Air Base, Japan, on May 20, 2021. (Joao Marcus Costa/U.S. Air Force)

Routine surgeries at Misawa Air Base in northeastern Japan are on hold indefinitely thanks to a mechanical failure at the base hospital last week, a base spokesman said Tuesday.

A medical technician with the 35th Medical Group discovered the failure on Nov. 2 in the medical supply and processing area, spokesman Lt. Col. Cody Chiles told Stars and Stripes via email Tuesday. The base posted a notice about the problem on its Facebook page Friday.

The failure caused temperature fluctuations in the medical supply area, which means materials in storage must be inspected to ensure their safety, Chiles said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, all non-emergent surgical services and dental procedures have been paused until 35th Medical Group staff can determine whether there is an infection prevention and control risk,” he said. 

Many medical supplies require specific storage conditions, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Sterilizing agents and disinfectants, for instance, must be stored below 86° F; storage above that temperature could jeopardize their stability.

For example, storing materials used for restorative dental work at temperatures from 80 to 90 degrees F can soon render them unusable, according to the FDA.

The Misawa medical staff must inspect all the affected surgical supplies before the hospital can provide further surgical services, Chiles said.

Labor and delivery and in-patient units will continue to operate 24 hours a day and urgent care services are being prioritized due to the temporary limited capacity.

Only a small number of elective surgeries and procedures have been affected by the incident, Chiles said. He said the medical group has already contacted those patients. So far, no surgical patients have been directed elsewhere for their procedures.

Chiles provided no estimate of when the hospital would resume surgical procedures.

“We have set no timeline for patient safety,” Chiles said. “The 35th Medical Group staff is working diligently with the appropriate agencies to ensure that all of Misawa’s surgical facilities and equipment are safe and operational as soon as possible.”

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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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