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Government takes a backseat as Seattle Children’s battles mold

Government health agencies are deferring to Seattle Children’s for information after the hospital’s operating rooms were closed again due to mold.

SEATTLE — When Seattle Children’s Hospital announced Monday that a new round of testing showed Aspergillus mold was still present in some of its operating rooms, public agencies that are supposed to safeguard patients seemed to take a backseat.

“Our role will continue to be consultative,” Public Health of Seattle/King County spokesman James Apa said in an email to KING 5 on Monday.

Apa said the agency had contacted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). On Tuesday, a CDC spokesperson emailed KING 5 saying it was aware of the situation, but the “CDC does not have oversight or regulatory authority over healthcare facilities.” The spokesperson referred KING 5 back to Public Health of Seattle/King County.

The Washington State Department of Health had a “surveyor” at the hospital on Tuesday “to learn how we are responding to the air quality issue,” according to a media statement released by Seattle Children’s on Tuesday.

Note that Seattle Children's provided this information, not the state.

On Wednesday, the state health department, like all public agencies contacted for this story, declined on-camera interviews about specifics related to its current investigation into the mold.  A spokesperson said she could talk about "general roles and responsibilities" but that "...we won't discuss details of ongoing investigations."

Also see | 'It didn't make sense': Mom says Seattle Children's may have misled her amid mold issues

Records reviewed by KING 5 show that a similar pattern has repeated since 2018, the first time that Seattle Children’s reported to public health agencies that Aspergillus mold had been spreading through its operating rooms through its ventilation system.

The public agencies sit in the background as Seattle Children’s leads the investigation and provides information to the public.

Seattle Children’s finally went public with its ongoing battle with Aspergillus mold this summer. In July, the hospital reported that one child died, and five others became ill.

The Washington Department of Health did inspect the hospital later that month and found deficiencies. However, it was a Seattle Children’s medical officer who stood in front of the cameras and called those issues minor paperwork problems.

Both Public Health of Seattle/King County and the Washington State Department of Health have declined on-camera interviews, nor have they called a news conference since the mold problem became public.

That job has been left to Seattle Children’s.

Public Health of Seattle/King County spokesperson James Apa vigorously disputes that his agency has sat on its hands.

Also see | Whistleblower alleged Seattle Children’s had mold problem before 2018 death

Apa said they have been “convening experts, getting information from Children’s on their testing results and advising (them) on next steps.”

“The recurrence of Aspergillus is concerning to us,” Apa said.

Apa also says the county health department does not have the authority to regulate hospitals.  However, public records from the health department have provided the most detail into how the hospital and public agencies have responded.   

Seattle Children’s legal team has also successfully blocked the release of more information about the mold outbreaks to the public. The hospital convinced King County Superior Court Judge Ken Schubert to grant a preliminary injunction against the county health department.

The order blocks the release of documents to KING 5 that Seattle Children’s claimed were part of its quality improvement process. State law allows those kinds of records to be shielded from public view.

KING 5’s lawyer argued the documents were produced by public agencies and should be releasable. Schubert largely sided with the hospital but said he will order some of the documentation to be released.

As for information on the latest mold re occurrence, public agencies deferred to Seattle Children’s for more information. A Seattle Children’s spokesperson declined on-camera interviews on Wednesday.

Also see | What is Aspergillus? Mold behind Seattle Children's closures explained

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