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  • Gabriella H Axelson

Seattle Children's Hospital Crisis

Seattle Children’s Hospital is in some pretty hot water right now. Back in May, the hospital closed down several operating and equipment rooms due to detected Aspergillus mold. Although the hospital reopened in early July, the crisis has been ongoing, with a press release being published on the hospitals website on 19 November, 2019, by the CEO, Dr. Jeff Sperring. In the press release, Sperring acknowledged that the mold issue had been ongoing since the summer of 2018. Sperring went on to acknowledge that further research into the mold infection has shown that seven patients developed infections from the Aspergillus mold in surgical sites between 2001 and 2014. . . five of those patients died. Sperring stated that at the time, they believed those incidents were isolated. However, now that an air-test has detected the presence of the mold in several operating rooms. Seattle Children’s response to this? Shut down all operating rooms until the end of January. During this closure, “Seattle Children’s will install a new rooftop air handler as well as custom-built, in-room high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in every operating room and adjacent supply area. HEPA is an extremely effective filtration system that removes 99.97 percent of particles from the air that passes through the filter” ( Sperring, Children’s Hospital CEO Press Release, 11.18.19). During this time, Children’s will also continue to engage with “external experts to make sure we are doing everything possible to improve the safety of our care” and “we will conduct a rigorous, thorough review of the factors that led to this situation.” Three days after Sperring’s press release, Susan Mask, Chair of Seattle Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees, released a press release announcing the board’s support of Sperring’s decision, yet will continue to monitor the situation closely.

While Seattle Children’s press release said all the right things, the timing was a little off. It was impressive how on the ball Children’s CEO was addressing the concern and the plan to fix the mold infestation, and how to prevent it from happening again. But the issue was it came late and a dollar short. Looking though the hospitals published reports/press releases, this was the first one mentioning the mold infestation. With such an important organisation, the community has no doubt lost trust for Seattle Children’s.

Looking at Google trends, there was a spike in search results for Seattle Children’s (hospital) and Aspergillus (fungus) when the hospital first closed, and again when the first press release was published. Looking through twitter and the news reports, many have expressed outrage and disbelief that a mold infestation could go undetected for so long in an environment that not only is expected to be sterile, but where children are at their most vulnerable. A few are questioning when the CEO is going to step down (or be fired). Seeing these trends and what is being said, Seattle Children’s seriously needs to step up to the plate in order to avoid a bigger issue down the road. Their reliability is dangerously on the line, and installing new air-filtration systems won’t be enough. This goes beyond just the physicality of the hospital, and questions the entire practice as a whole. In order to “save” themselves, Seattle Children’s will have to be honest, and transparent, on what they are going to do internally, to make sure a mistake like this will never be made again. This transparency is key, and detailing how exactly they will better communicate with each team to insure all operating rooms, equipment, and doctors are meeting standards may be the only way to rebuild the trust they have lost.

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