Home E-Weekly April 3, 2018

Did Sewage Leaks in ORs Cause Deadly Infection?

Published: April 3, 2018

Burning Time SEWAGE SEPSIS Carol Leonard, 70, died of sepsis 5 days after undergoing surgery in a sewage-infested OR.

A woman died of a surgical site infection 5 days after she underwent a routine thyroidectomy in a sewage-infested OR. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Carol Leonard, 70, implicates the sewage that for nearly a year had seeped into the basement-level operating room from a clogged toilet in the cath lab directly above.

The lawsuit alleges that MedStar Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C.:

  • knew that sewage was leaking into its ORs from pipes above and around the ORs since at least 2015, yet continued to operate on unsuspecting patients; and
  • should have administered antibiotics to Ms. Leonard due to the increased infection risks associated with the sewage leaks.

D.C. health officials say they found at least 7 sewage leaks during an 11-month period between September 2016 and August 2017. The surgical staff had a code word for the sewage: black water. When the odor became unbearable, they'd use portable fans to blow the stench away.

CMS placed the hospital in "immediate jeopardy" of losing its Medicare and Medicaid funding, according to the 2016 report unless they met the deadline for compliance, says health officials. CMS removed the designation 3 days after MedStar Washington submitted a plan for correction, according to USA Today.

In a statement, MedStar Washington said: "A recent media story created a false impression of MedStar Washington Hospital Center's facilities. Last summer, we found minor leaks in an operating room. We closed the room immediately, conducted necessary repairs, cleaned and sterilized it, and brought in an outside hygienist to ensure that the room was safe for patient care. We have had no new leaks since August 2017. We are in full compliance with the facility action plan accepted by the D.C. Department of Health. In addition, we are fully licensed by the Health Department and accredited by The Joint Commission, both of which thoroughly and regularly review our OR standards and protocols for providing a safe environment for every patient."

JoEllen McBride, PhD

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