The CEO of Seattle Children’s Hospital held a press conference this week to address recent mold outbreaks, as well as the troubling history that the hospital has had involving mold dating back to 2001, which appears to be the cause of numerous infections and even some deaths.
“We must go to a higher standard, and we must do it now,” stated CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring at this week’s press conference. The hospital is currently dealing with a mold outbreak, forcing it to close operating rooms for the second time this year. Tests performed on November 10 detected Aspergillus in the air in three operating rooms as well as two procedural areas. All ten operating rooms will remain closed through January to handle the outbreak. Aspergillus is a type of fungal mold that generally does not carry a risk of harm to individuals with healthy immune systems. However, for those who have compromised immune systems, breathing in Aspergillus spores can cause an infection in the lungs or sinuses which can spread throughout the body.
The hospital had reported seven other cases of mold infection since 2018, including another outbreak of Aspergillus in May of this year which also led to operating room closures. The hospital detailed a plan of action to stop the mold, which included installing a new rooftop air handler as well as custom-built, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in each operating room and in equipment storage rooms. The upgraded filtration systems were something that the hospital had been planning to do for some time and was initially scheduled to have been completed this past July. According to hospital officials, HEPA removes 99.97 percent of particles from the air, which is the highest level currently available to operating rooms.
The hospital discussed the fact that it had been battling mold issues since 2001. Between the period of 2001 and 2014, seven patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital experienced infections related to Aspergillus exposure. Five of these children died. At the time, the infections were explained as isolated incidents. Now, however, the hospital believes they were likely caused by the air handling systems in the hospital’s operating rooms that failed to remove the mold. These seven cases are in addition to seven infections and one death attributable to mold exposure which have been recorded since the summer of 2018.
The hospital plans to re-open operating rooms in January of 2020. At this time, the installation of the new air filtration systems should be complete. In the interim, Seattle Children’s medical staff will perform surgery at partner hospitals, including Harborview, Swedish, UW Medical Center, and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.