December 9, 2019

Seattle Children’s Hospital Kept Deadly Mold Secret Since 2005 Lawsuit Alleges

Seattle Children’s Hospital Kept Deadly Mold Secret Since 2005 Lawsuit Alleges

By Chaunie Brusie

The families of four victims say the hospital kept the mold a secret. 

Following the news of over 6 children’s deaths from a mold infestation at Seattle Children’s Hospital, two lawsuits have now been issued against the hospital, claiming that administrators were aware of the mold problem and actively engaged in covering it up. 

After Aspergillus mold was found both in 2018 and earlier this year in the hospital, Seattle Children’s CEO, Dr. Jeff Sperring released a statement on the hospital’s website in November, outlining how the hospital had not yet been “successful” in preventing Aspergillus infections in their operating rooms and apologized to all the patients, parents, and caregivers who had been affected. 

“This is a heartbreaking time for all of us at Seattle Children’s,” he said in his statement. “The work we do here is all about kids and their families. Patients, families and the community rely on us to provide safe, quality care. We’ve let them down.”

What the Lawsuit Says

Although Seattle Children’s communications so far has admitted that the hospital “failed,” the lawsuit says that the hospital knew about the mold starting in 2005--but kept the issue a secret from both patients and the public, even going as far as to mislead staff as well. 

According to the first lawsuit, a family first sued Seattle Children’s in 2005 over a mold infection, and when the hospital settled in 2008, it insisted on confidentiality over the matter in an attempt to keep the mold issue quiet. However, the lawsuit states that the hospital did not successfully address the issue, and allowed the Aspergillus mold to continue to contaminate the facilities. And sadly, as a result, at least 14 children were infected, with 6 deaths, due to mold exposure since 2001. 

The lawsuit makes some very sober accusations against Seattle Children’s, stating that:

  • The air intake maintenance systems were not properly maintained. 
  • Things such as “slimy water” and dead birds and debris were present.
  • A Director of Engineer was fired after bringing up the concerns she had over air-handling equipment.

Currently, the lawsuit names four young victims:  Aiden Wills, 3, who underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2008 and died of a mold infection in 2009; infant Logan Shaffer, who had heart surgery in 2005 and later died of a mold infection; 17-year-old Whitney Stettler, who became infected with mold after being treated for leukemia; and 11-year-old Ian Gunnell, who passed away in 2019 after receiving treatment for a rare blood cancer. 

However, the filers also state that the lawsuit is being filed on behalf of all the families that may have been affected.  “...more people will come forward,” one of the lawsuit’s attorneys, Brad Moore, said. “And we will, through the course of discovery, find out how many more people we are talking about. It’s definitely more than dozens, if not hundreds.”

The second lawsuit was filed on behalf of an 11-year-old boy who was infected with the mold following a March 2019 surgery. The Aspergillus infection affected his central nervous system, leaving him to have physical impairments in his ability to walk or sit, says his attorney.  

Although there is not an official press release on Seattle Children’s website as of yet, according to Komo News, Seattle Children released the following statement regarding the lawsuit: 

“We are incredibly sorry for the hurt experienced by these families and regret that recent developments have caused additional grief. Out of respect for privacy, we do not intend to share details about our patients or comment on specific cases or legal action.”

What to Expect Next

Seattle Children’s website notes that as of November 10, air tests had still detected Aspergillus in several of their operating rooms, so they were shut down for improvements that included a new rooftop air handler and in-room high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. And the lawsuit says that the amount the filers are asking for will be decided in trial. 

On a community level, parents with children needing treatment at the hospital have admitted that they are nervous about what the future may hold for their safety. For instance, Amanda Rogers has a daughter scheduled to have brain surgery, but told KF News that she was concerned that the hospital would not truly be free of mold by the time of surgery. “I know she needs the surgery but I don’t want her to get sick from the mold,” she said. “I would feel better if the hospital could assure me that the operating room that they are using for my daughter’s surgery is free of mold.”

Supporters Speak Out

Some on social media have warned of spreading too much negativity about the hospital, pointing out that the facility provides necessary services for many people in the area. “Unproven accusations of one of the most important resources for children in the PNW…” said one commenter on a CNN article. “What will harm more children? This article if families need care and try to avoid the only place they can get it.”

Others pointed out that aside from the horror of the deaths that the children suffered, the fact that the mold has been present for so long is also a potentially huge problem for all of the staff who have been working in the mold-infested areas. “Bad enough it’s children but the 1000s of staff (nurses and all) breathing it in for years??” said a concerned reader. “This could be a much bigger deal than we know.” 

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