Fire sparks appreciation for MDR Department – Medical Device Reprocessing Week, Oct. 8-14

Two members of the MDR team stand smiling at the camera. They are wearing hospital scrubs.

MDR (Medical Device Reprocessing) is truly the heart of the hospital, this department supports the entire site for any equipment or instrument needed, from bedpans to OR instrumentation and everything in between.Crystal Steck, Business Process Manager, Medical Device Reprocessing Department

For Crystal Steck, Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Winnipeg is her home away from home, working there for over 20 years. During that time, she has worked in a variety of roles, ranging from dietary aide and transport to her current role as the site’s Business Process Manager in the Medical Device Reprocessing (MDR) Department.

The hospital campus is a place where Steck has developed and fostered many long-term and close friendships across departments and teams. Together, these friends and colleagues are part of the broader HSC team, a group of dedicated health-care professionals that have shown time and time again their willingness to come together to support any area in need.   

In June 2023, the MDR department was that area in need, when a Code Red (a fire and resulting fire suppression) put a swift halt to the department’s normal operations.

As a Business Process Manager, Steck is responsible for overseeing the department’s operations, ensuring all reusable medical devices and supplies undergo proper cleaning, disinfection and sterilization.

Every day, thousands of items such as scopes, respiratory items, surgical tools and more pass through the hands of the MDR team before they can be used to support patient care.

When Steck walked into the MDR department on the morning of the fire, the air was thick with smoke and she knew immediately that the once sterile department had been compromised.

“Our department has a very large footprint,” explained Steck. “We were so grateful to the firefighters, security and maintenance teams for containing and extinguishing the fire so quickly but I remember the smell of burnt plastic and just knew it was all compromised. It was absolutely heartbreaking and there were many tears.”

With the fire now out, Steck knew the work to resume normal operations was only just beginning.

She reached out to a friend and colleague Molly Blake, Director of Infection, Prevention and Control, for guidance. It was confirmed that the entire MDR department would need to be deep cleaned and reprocessed, meaning that thousands of instruments needed to be unwrapped, unpeeled, and un-pouched before being washed, re-sterilized, repackaged and put back onto the shelves. 

“Knowing what had to be done to ensure equipment was available felt insurmountable,” she said. 

Running solely on emergency back-up power, Steck and her team went to work using one sterilizer, a couple of basic machines, and a few computers.

“It was a fairly bare bones type of operation that day – but we had to make do, starting with re-washing emergency items for life and limbs,” she said.

Thanks to Blake and others, word quickly spread that their department needed help.

“Once people heard what had happened we had tons of help and everybody just went to work,” said Steck. “Housekeeping was amazing. Maintenance was working hard to get us more power and the OR staff began to come down and see how they could help.”

“Hundreds of people were in our department getting their hands dirty and helping out in any way that they could, it was absolutely heartwarming.”

Particular tasks, such as sterilizing and reassembling sets, needed to be done by a certified MDR technician. Staff from other areas were able to help in ‘dirty zones’ where they unwrapped items for reprocessing.

“It was an all hands-on deck situation,” said Steck. “Our staff were working so hard but there’s only so many of us. Thankfully other sites sent us MDR staff, managers and supervisors to help too. We had colleagues I haven’t seen in ages come together to work. It was incredible.”

Members of the MDR team in a group photo in a hospital setting.

The impact was felt throughout the hospital and beyond. With specific and meticulous work to resume normal operations occurred at a highspeed pace, initially only critical and life-saving surgeries were able to proceed while the necessary equipment went through disinfection and sterilization.

Many staff that answered the call for help developed a new-found appreciation for the work completed each day by highly specialized MDR techs. 

“One of the funniest moments was when a doctor came down to help us wrap towels, which need to be folded in a certain way to keep the operating space sterile in the OR,” explained Steck. “Afterwards he said ‘I didn’t realize how much work happens before my work’. Little do some staff realize, there’s a human behind every fold and every instrument.”

Together, the humans of HSC worked together to get the MDR department back up and running to full capacity as quickly as possible.

Sandra Campbell, MDR technician of 30 years at HSC Winnipeg, recalls thinking it could take months to recover from the event.  

“Everything had to be done right from scratch,” said Campbell. “The whole hospital felt the domino effect that day and time was of the essence so we could minimize impact to patient care. I was really impressed that our entire team pulled together and got it done in a matter of days.”

Four days after the fire, the MDR department was operating almost at full capacity again. Shelves were stocked and the smell of smoke had dissipated, but the positive feelings of a team that had pulled together remained.

“By Tuesday, we were rocking it, having a dance party as we pouched and wrapped instruments,” remembered Steck with a smile. “It was a roller coaster of emotions but this event reminded us all we are truly better together.”  

“The team pulled off this absolute miracle amount of work in such a short time, never once losing their professionalism. I felt a bit like a ‘proud mom’. The staff put their hearts and souls into putting our house back together again.”

Shared Health is proud to recognize Medical Device Reprocessing Week, October 8-14, and the vital role MDR staff play working behind the scenes, upholding cleanliness standards that reduce the spread of disease and save lives throughout Manitoba.  


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