SEATTLE — Seattle Children’s hospital is pressing its fight to keep public health department records related to mold infections out of the hands of KING 5’s news team.
In a Tuesday morning hearing, the hospital’s lawyer asked the Washington Division I Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court decision ordering the release of hundreds of pages of records from the state and county health departments.
However, the three-member appeals court did not rule from the bench on whether the records should be released to KING 5 and the public.
The records stem from health department investigations into a decades long mold problem in the hospital’s operating rooms. The records include assistance provided by Public Health – Seattle & King County, the Washington State Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Documents that have been released so far told the KING 5 Investigators that seven young patients died from Aspergillus mold infections since 2001.
In one set of documents obtained by KING 5 from the CDC, an old operating room humidifier that was suddenly switched on after almost a decade of sitting idle was blamed for the spread of at least some of the Aspergillus mold. The hospital has never answered KING 5’s questions about why that machine was turned on.
The hospital’s lawyer told the court on Tuesday that the health department records are part of the Children’s “quality improvement” – or Q-I process, which is legally protected.
“Had Seattle Children’s not requested the testing and other assistance from the CDC and King County public health, the documents in question would not exist,” said Seattle Children’s counsel Adrian Urquhart Winder.
Winder said because the documents were generated as part of the QI process, they are exempt from the Public Records Act and they should not be released even though they are being held by public agencies.
KING 5’s lawyer, Michele Earl-Hubbard, disagreed and said the hospital is not allowed to use public agencies to do its private bidding.
“They cannot take taxpayer resources and become unpaid expert consultants to a QI committee” Earl-Hubbard said.
A lawyer for the state Department of Health also argued that the records should not be protected under the QI exemption.
Public Health – Seattle & King County has submitted similar opinions to the lawyer court, but its attorney did not speak at the Tuesday hearing.