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Seattle Children's sues to block release of state health records related to mold

The "amended complaint" in a lawsuit against KING 5 and the county health department seeks to block the release of more public health agency records.

SEATTLE — Seattle Children’s Hospital is trying to expand its grip on public documents related to Aspergillus mold infections that have killed seven patients, according to documents filed in King County Superior Court.

The hospital’s legal team filed an “amended complaint” to block the release of records from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), in addition to its demand that the court withholds records from the health department in King County.

County documents previously released to KING 5 through a public records request showed that the hospital’s operating rooms have been battling Aspergillus mold in the air handling system off-and-on for nearly 20 years.

Six-month-old Elizbeth Hutt, who contracted Aspergillus infection during heart surgery in August, died last week.

In addition to the seven deaths, more than a dozen other young patients have been infected since 2001, according to records.

RELATED: Public health department slow to respond to Seattle Children’s mold

The DOH records sought by news agencies are “confidential and sensitive,” according to Seattle Children’s lawyer Adrian Urquhart Winder. The hospital cites a state law that says records produced for quality improvement purposes are not disclosable to the public.

Previous DOH records released to KING 5 have contained vital information about how the hospital and public health agencies are responding to the mold problem.

For example, a DOH report that KING 5 received in July through a public records request contained important details about the latest Aspergillus infection.

The report showed that a young heart patient acquired the infection during an October 2019 procedure in “Children’s operating room (OR), suite #11.”

The DOH investigator noted that OR #11 did not have an advanced High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, even though Children’s had previously announced that it was adding HEPA filters to several of its operating rooms. 

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The investigator “interviewed the leadership team to determine why they approved cardiac cases” to return to a non-HEPA filtered operating room. 

The hospital’s chief medical officer and chief surgeon said they made the decision in consultation with the infection prevention unit and the “heart team.”

The report did not offer any criticism of their decision. The investigator did find that the hospital’s physical environment was safe and sanitary.

On Jan. 10, the top official involved in that decision left the hospital after a 30-year career.

A Seattle Children’s spokesperson said Dr. Mark Del Becarro retired. He could not be reached for comment.

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