According to allegations raised in a recently filed class action lawsuit, Seattle Children’s Hospital knew about mold problems for years, yet failed to address it or warn patients, which may have contributed to at least six child deaths since 2001.
The complaint (PDF) was filed this week by parents of three children who died after being treated at the hospital, and one former patient who survived. The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Washington for King County, naming the hospital as the sole defendant.
The lawsuit followed a press release issued last month by the Seattle Children’s Hospital, which admitted that routine air tests found the presence of Aspergillus, a form of mold, in three operating rooms and two procedural areas. While common, it can result in serious health complications and death.
The statement was issued by Seattle Children’s Hospital CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring on November 18 after the hospital closed the operating rooms affected. He revealed that the hospital has battled the problem since 2001, but failed to inform patients of the issues.
The letter indicates that the hospital has had seven Aspergillus surgical site infections since the summer of 2018. In one case the patient died.
“As we have looked more closely at our history of Aspergillus infections, we believe there are connections between recent and past infections,” Sperring wrote. “Between 2001 and 2014, seven patients developed Aspergillus surgical site infections. Tragically, five of those patients died.”
Sperring acknowledged that the hospital had let parents, families and its community down and apologized.
The affected operating rooms are now closed until a permanent solution to the mold problem can be found, Sperring said.
The lawsuit indicates plaintiffs believe the hospital could have addressed the problem years ago, and should have warned patients and parents more than a decade ago, but instead covered the problem up in order to win a lawsuit.
“By at least 2005, Defendant knew the transmission of Aspergillus into its premises could be related to its air-handling system,” the lawsuit states. “At that time in order to win a lawsuit brought by the Patnode family, Defendant hired lawyers and experts in an attempt to disprove that fact.”
That case involved a lawsuit brought by Eugene and Clarissa Patnode, who sued the hospital after their child got sick due to Aspergillus mold. That claim was eventually settled confidentially in 2008.
The latest lawsuit notes that the hospital could have reasonably known about the problem as early as 2000, at which time there were internal communications regarding ongoing and systemic problems with the maintenance of the hospital’s air handling system.
The Seattle Children’s Hospital class action complaint seeks to pursue damages for al patients treated since 2001, who contracted any version of Aspergillus-related illness.
In the meantime, Sperring has promised that the hospital will install a new rooftop air handler, add custom-built HEPA filters to every operating room and adjacent supply areas, and will conduct a review of the hospital’s procedures which led to the situation, including the hospital’s culture, leadership and communication among staff.
While the operating rooms are closed, surgeries will be performed at partner hospitals in the area.