Operating rooms closed at Anchorage VA clinic until ventilation problem resolved

The Alaska Veterans Affairs Healthcare System has shut down operating rooms in Anchorage amid ventilation concerns and a fix to the problem remains months away, according to a spokesman.

Since the two rooms at the Anchorage VA Outpatient Clinic were closed in February and again in March, the VA has moved 50 to 60 outpatient surgeries from the clinic on North Muldoon Road to the nearby hospital at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, said Samuel Hudson, Alaska VA public affairs officer. Hudson said the VA has not canceled or delayed any operations.

"They've been able to absorb it," he said of the JBER hospital. "At no point was any veteran in danger or put at risk."

The $76 million, 184,000-square-foot Anchorage VA Outpatient Clinic and regional office building opened in May 2010. On Feb. 3, a nurse at the clinic discovered the ventilation problem when she saw a small amount of dust on a typically clean table, said Douglas Lofgren, Alaska VA chief of facilities management services.

The air ducts were cleaned and the operating rooms reopened on Feb. 19. But by March 10, the dust had returned, again forcing closure of the operating rooms, Hudson said. They have not been reopened.

Lofgren said the dust came from mineral buildup in the humidification system's air ducts. Normally, air travels into the ducts from outside. Water is sprayed into the ducts and the air absorbs it. The moistened air flows into the operating rooms, Lofgren said.

However, minerals from the water built up in the ducts and eventually blew into the operating rooms, Lofgren said. The humidification system at the Anchorage clinic was designed under VA standards that have since changed, he said. The new standards require steam moisture as the source of water for humidification.


The VA will contract out the work for a new steam generator, Lofgren said. He estimated the project will take an additional five to eight months.

"We had to get this done right away," he said.

A price for the project has not yet been set, but Lofgren said the Alaska VA will use money from previously approved construction projects to complete it. He said he didn't know from which projects the money would be pulled.

Hudson declined to provide a cost estimate until the design was complete but said "it shouldn't be an astronomical figure."

According to figures presented by the Alaska VA in 2014, about 14,600 veterans enrolled in VA benefits lived in Anchorage -- nearly half of the total enrollees statewide. The Anchorage VA Outpatient Clinic opened with two operating rooms to handle minor procedures like shoulder operations, cataract surgeries and foot surgeries, Hudson said.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.