WellSpan York Hospital faces suit over heater-cooler-related infection risks

Twelve patients have filed a civil lawsuit against WellSpan York (Pa.) Hospital that alleges the hospital failed to protect them from exposure to nontuberculous mycobacterium during open-heart surgery, according to the York Dispatch.

This suit is one of five filed so far against WellSpan York having to do with this infection risk, according to the York Dispatch. Also involved in the suit are nine spouses of the patients.

In October 2015, WellSpan notified roughly 1,300 open-heart-surgery patients they may have been exposed to NTM bacteria after an investigation found a link between the infections and heater-cooler devices, which use circulating water during open-heart surgery to regulate body temperature. NTM infections were identified in 12 patients.

WellSpan York is not the only hospital with this problem, as the CDC issued a warning in October 2016 that a certain brand of heater-cooler devices — Stöckert 3T heater-coolers made by LivaNova (formerly Sorin Group Deutschland) — were spreading NTM bacteria. Multiple hospitals have issued similar warnings to patients of potential bacterial exposure.

NTM bacteria are commonly found in nature but can cause serious infections in those with weakened immune systems.

Attorney Donald Reihart is representing the plaintiffs in the suit against WellSpan York. The 94-page complaint filed by Mr. Reihart, cited by the York Dispatch, alleges WellSpan failed to appropriately supervise patient safety. While none of the patients currently have NTM infections, the complaint details how each patient experienced general symptoms associated with the infection like weight loss and fatigue.

"Patients put their trust in the hospital," Mr. Reihart said, according to York Dispatch. "Now they have to wonder, 'Am I getting [an NTM infection] or just another cold?'"

Each plaintiff is seeking damages of more than $50,000.

"What I can say is we do not comment on active or pending litigation," Dan Carrigan, a WellSpan spokesperson, told Becker's. "We remain focused and committed to the safety and care to our patients. We continue to provide care and resources to patients who may have been impacted by this issue. That is our top priority."

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