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Seattle Children’s told health officials in 2018 about prior mold infections

Public records just released following a court battle with KING 5 reveal the hospital informed the public health department last year about prior mold infections.

SEATTLE — New records obtained by the KING 5 Investigators show Seattle Children’s hospital provided information to public health officials last year about prior mold infections at the hospital dating back to 2001.

The documents were ordered to be released by a King County Superior Court judge Monday, which was the same day that hospital CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring stepped in front of television cameras and admitted the hospital was aware of five patient deaths from Aspergillus mold infection between 2001 and 2014.

The newly released records, which stemmed from a request KING 5 filed in August, still contain many redactions of paragraphs and words that obscure the exact information Children’s reported to Public Health of Seattle & King County  in June 2018, which was the first time it notified public health authorities of its ongoing problems with mold in its ventilation system.

The new records show “Previous HA Aspergillus infections (2007-Present)” and “Previous Aspergillus SSIs (2001-present),” but the actual infection numbers remain blacked out.

Credit: KING
The document on the left was originally released by Seattle Children's. A superior court judge ordered the hospital release the document on the right after a court battle.

The records are the first evidence that Children’s looked back at prior Aspergillus infections and deaths and reported them to government officials well before it held its new conference Monday. But that information was not released by the hospital or public health officials until Monday’s news conference.

In announcing the additional deaths, Dr. Sperring said the hospital previously believed they were “isolated infections.” He said, “…we now believe that these infections were likely caused by the air handling systems that serve our operating rooms. Looking back, we should have recognized these connections sooner.”

Since 2001, 14 patients developed an Aspergillus infection, six of whom died, according to Seattle Children's. Last week, the hospital closed most of its operating rooms until January so it can install a new rooftop air handler and in-room HEPA filters in every operating room and adjacent supply areas.

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Public Health of Seattle & King County spokesman James Apa initially denied that health officials were aware of prior mold deaths.

However, later on Tuesday he said he learned that the health department was aware of two Aspergillus deaths that occurred prior to 2007.   He says, like the hospital, the agency did not link those deaths to the 2019 death because it was believed the earlier fatalities resulted from "contaminated dust" in the operating rooms.

That theory has now changed and both public and health department officials believe the OR's ventilation systems have been circulating the mold and infecting a small number of patients over the years.

It is clear that the hospital was trying to contain information about the mold infections because of a document it drafted in 2018 called a “reactive media policy.” It instructed hospital staff not to inform news agencies about the Aspergillus mold that was flowing through operating room ventilation systems and to answer limited questions from reporters “only if asked.”

KING 5 received the reactive media policy document from the county public health department, which also did not inform the public of the hospital’s mold problems.

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