Home >  News >  May, 2017

Hospital, Linen Service Fighting Allegations Related to 7 Patient Deaths From Mold

Hospital investigators and CDC at odds over the most likely source of the infections.

Published: May 2, 2017

MOLDY LINENS A linen company has been implicated in the deaths of 7 patients from 3 University of Pittsburgh hospitals.

Investigators agree that a virulent strain of mold called rhizopus is responsible for the deaths of 7 patients at 3 University of Pittsburgh hospitals between October 2014 and October 2016, but questions regarding where the mold came from — the hospital's ventilation system or its linen service — and who if anyone is to blame, are generating confusion, controversy and widespread disagreement. Not to mention numerous lawsuits.

News reports detail the finger-pointing surrounding the deaths, with various parties blaming the hospitals, a healthcare laundry service and circumstances beyond the control of either.

A report commissioned by the hospital in the fall of 2015, based on an investigation by 2 hospital environmentalists, documented evidence of mold both at the hospitals and at Paris Cleaners, in Dubois, Pa., the company responsible for laundering the linens for most of the hospital's 25-plus facilities. The report was initially intended to be confidential but was later released in court proceedings.

According to the report, sheets delivered to one of its facilities by Paris Cleaners had "heavy fungal growth of [the molds] Mucor and rhizopus." And the facility itself had a heavy buildup of lint and mold near a vent through which unfiltered air was being used to dry linens, said the investigators.

But an earlier investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control concluded that the hospital's ventilation system was more likely the culprit, and a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman later asserted that the investigation didn't "support the conclusion that infections resulted from exposure to linens."

"We stand by these statements from our public agencies," Dave Stern, CEO of Paris Cleaners, says in a statement. "Our products are safe. We have followed and we continue to follow protocols of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council."

The hospital settled cases involving 2 of the first 5 patients, all of whom were transplant recipients, for $1.35 million each. But 2 more cases have been brought recently, with the families of both patients charging both the hospital and Paris Cleaners with wrongful death and negligence. The new cases involve the mold-related deaths of patients who were being treated for cancer.

Citing the hospital's investigation, the new suits argue that all the deaths are linked by the common thread of the hospital linen service.

Shortly after the 2 newest suits were filed, a hospital spokeswoman was reported to have said, "We do not believe these 2 patients actually contracted rhizopus infections at [the hospital]," adding that latent colonization and pre-existing sinus fungal infection "were the most likely causes."

But the CDC report noted that it would be "probable" that such a condition had been acquired in the hospital if hospitalization had occurred more than 14 days before its onset. One of the new patients showed no symptoms until she'd been hospitalized for 24 days.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tells Outpatient Surgery Magazine it "will address specific allegations in court and not in the media," adding that "ongoing monitoring and testing show no evidence of concerning mold infections" and that it "has gone above and beyond any existing guidelines and CDC recommendations for assuring the safety of our patients."

Jim Burger

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