Children’s hospitals across the country are places where families can seek professional and dependable treatment for their sick or injured child. Staff members work tirelessly to ensure that their young patients receive the attention and care they require. But what happens when the hospital itself is a veritable threat to a child’s health?
This was the case for some families at the Seattle Children’s Hospital whose children suffered the consequences of an ongoing mold infestation.
A years-long problem
The chief executive of Children’s, Dr. Jeff Sperring, confirmed that since 2001, six patients have lost their lives and many more have suffered from serious infections. The reason? Aspergillus mold in the hospital’s HVAC systems.
Generally, this type of mold is harmless to breathe. But in patients with already-weakened immune systems or other health problems, Aspergillus mold can lead to serious infections such as aspergillosis. Additionally, it can be difficult to identify mold-related infections in patients who may already be battling infections and illnesses.
First case to go to court
For years, the hospital had denied any connections between the infected patients and the air-born mold. In 2002, the Patnode family recognized the link when an Aspergillus infection left their 12-year-old daughter permanently disabled. Yet Children’s adamantly denied the family’s claim and spent three years fighting them in court.
Hospital staff members gave countless testimonies about the presence of mold in Children’s critical care and air intake systems. Eventually, a judge conceded that Aspergillus may have found its way to the operating room where the Patnode’s daughter contracted the infection. The family received an undisclosed settlement sum.
The Patnode’s case was, unfortunately, one of many. Looking back, Children’s was able to identify several more instances of Aspergillus-related injuries and deaths. After years of consistent Aspergillus infection problems, Sperring admits to the hospital’s failure to act sooner.
By May of 2018, Children’s closed several operating rooms for inspection and sanitization. But after reopening them in November, three more operating rooms had tested positive for Aspergillus.
To fix the situation, Children’s has ordered new air-handling and air-filtration systems. Surgeries have been diverted to other areas of the hospital or nearby medical centers to avoid further contamination and infection.