Lawsuit blames death of 6th patient on UPMC mold

PITTSBURGH — A lawsuit announced Tuesday blames the death of a sixth patient on mold at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospitals.

John Haines, 65, of Upper Saint Clair, was being treated for leukemia and bacterial pneumonia at UPMC Shadyside. Haines died less than a month later, on Oct. 7, and investigators said they found rhizopus in his lungs.

The wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against UPMC and Paris Healthcare Linen Service, which is the hospital’s linen vendor.

The Haines family released the following statement late Tuesday night:

“John Haines was a generous, caring and humorous man who was always happiest when he was making others feel welcome and at home. We hope this case will make public the circumstances of his death and help prevent future pain and suffering of UPMC patients and their families.”

Attorneys for the Haines family are calling on the Centers for Disease Control to return to UPMC to conduct an investigation, because they believe there could be more victims.

RELATED: Deadly mold on linens may have contributed to UPMC patient's death, attorney says

During a news conference Tuesday, attorneys Jerry Meyers and Brendan Lupetin laid out their case against UPMC and Paris Companies, which provides linens to all 22 UPMC facilities.

"Any hospital of the 22-hospital health system with immune-compromised patients is at risk," attorney Jerry Meyers said.

Five other deaths that are being blamed on mold occurred at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore. Families of two of those patients are also targeting the linen vendor in their lawsuits.

"Here's another type of immune-suppressed patient that needlessly developed this very, very rare type of fungal infection and we expect there will be more in the future," Lupetin said.

In January, their attorneys filed a 16-page report they received from UPMC's attorneys in which experts said they found the same kind of mold that allegedly killed both patients at the Paris Linens plant about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Dubois, Pennsylvania.

Dave Stern, chief executive officer of Paris Companies, issued a statement that argues the linens were not the source of the fungal infection. Stern said:

"Paris Companies consistently meets or exceeds accreditation standards and regulatory guidelines for laundering linens, which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to quality and safety. We continue to cooperate with all regulatory agencies involved in the oversight of linen processing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health both reviewed the facts in this case. Neither agency identified linens as the source of the problem."

With regard to the most recent lawsuit, officials from UMPC issued the following statement Tuesday:

Ensuring the safest possible environment for patient care is of utmost importance to UPMC. It is critically important to understand that rhizopus is present in all environments and does not cause illness in anyone except for those with the most severely compromised immune systems. Despite our best protocols, it can still be carried into the hospital on the shoes or clothes of visitors.
All of our hospitals were included in our review following the mucormycosis case that we brought to the attention of health authorities in 2015. We have conducted comprehensive risk assessments of all UPMC locations and implemented appropriate evidence-based protocols.
Mr. Haines was very sick when he was admitted to UPMC Shadyside Hospital in September. When he arrived, he was positive for pseudomonas, a very opportunistic and deadly bacteria, and we then diagnosed him with leukemia as well. He had almost no white blood cells, so his immune system was not functioning. We immediately started him on an antifungal treatment and he was never housed in a negative pressure room. His illness progressed though and, despite our best efforts, we did find a colony of rhizopus in his lung fluid immediately prior to his passing. His family told us that Mr. Haines was an avid gardener. We explained that while it was possible he contracted his fungal infection prior to his hospitalization, we decided, however, to classify it as hospital-acquired per CDC guidelines even though clinically there can be no certainty.
We have tested hospital linens at UPMC Shadyside and found no rhizopus.
We are saddened by his death. Unfortunately rhizopus-related infections happen at major medical centers where the sickest of the sick are treated, despite the best possible care.  The CDC would be appropriate to confirm the national rate of rhizopus-related infections that would be expected at hospitals and we encourage you to contact them.

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