Lawsuit alleges negligence by Seattle Children's for mold-related sicknesses

SEATTLE -  Earlier this week, Seattle Children’s CEO Jeff Sperring made no excuses for the deadly mold problem at his hospital. They now believe that complications from Aspergillus mold has killed six patients since 2001.

“Looking back, we should have made the connections sooner. Simply put, we failed,” Sperring said.

The culprit, the hospital says, is the air handling units serving its operating rooms.

In addition to six deaths, eight patients have been sickened.

Now, the parents of one those sickened patients is suing the hospital, saying it did not “take reasonably prudent measures to prevent Aspergillus.”

Attorney Tyler Goldberg-Hoss is representing parents Virginia Tom and Peter Tom of Whatcom County. The family says the illness was caused by the hospital’s negligence.

Hoss says the teenage boy underwent brain surgery for a benign tumor in 2018 when he contracted Aspergillus meningitis. Thankfully the teenager survived but the family says he is still undergoing treatment for the infection.

It is unclear what the long term effects will be. Hoss says the infection significantly impacted the boy’s academics and sports activities at school.

Seattle Children’s CEO says the hospital thought these infections were isolated at first and they only realized recently that it was their air-handling units. But a family in Yakima refutes that, saying they sued Seattle Children’s over the same issue as early as 2005. Eugene and Clarissa Patnode sued on behalf of their daughter who underwent surgery when she was 12 years old.

The case was settled in 2008.

Their daughter survived Aspergillus, but she is still living with severe complications. Attorney John Layman, who represented the family, said the girl has serious cognitive impairment and needs help walking.

During their legal fight, they got declarations from people who formerly worked at the hospital.

The declarations reveal that in 2001, Kenneth Johnson, who worked for the Building and Engineering Department, wrote an email saying, in part, that "the coils and drain pans actually have mold and fungus growing on them.

"I think we need to rectify this situation ASAP before someone gets sick or Infection Control gets complaints,” Johnson said.

Margaret Brown, who worked at the hospital between 2002 and 2003, said in her declaration that she discovered a system that was inadequate and concerning.

“It appeared that maintenance had not been performed for many years. I observed dead birds along with copious other debris lodged in the screens. Further, I observed air handling unit water pans filled with slimy water in the bottom of them," she said.

Layman says it is unfathomable to him and the Patnodes that the hospital did not make a connection between the illnesses and the air-handling unit sooner.

“Families and myself are sickened by the news and by what’s happened to more children,” Layman said.

Layman says his firm was clear in their communication to the hospital that it was the air handling system that sickened their client.

“Saying that they just now for the first time are making that connection is unfathomable," Layman said.

Brown, in her declaration, also alleged that after she voiced criticism of the system she was abruptly let go by the hospital.

Q13 News reached out to Seattle Children’s about Johnson and Brown’s declarations.

The hospital responded by reiterating what the CEO said earlier this week.

The hospital says they believed most of the infections identified between 2001 and 2014 were isolated infections but now they believe those cases and the recent ones are all linked to the air handling units.