Dirty equip­ment tied to baby deaths

At­tor­ney ques­tions when Geisinger knew of process prob­lems

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES HALPIN STAFF WRITER

Geisinger Med­i­cal Cen­ter of­fi­cial son Fri­day an­nounced they have traced the source of the deadly bac­te­rial out­break that killed three pre­ma­ture ba­bies and sick­ened five oth­ers to con­tam­i­nated equip­ment used to pre­pare do­nated breast milk.

Hospi­tal of­fi­cials and the state De­part­ment of Health traced the Pseu­domonas aerug­i­nosa bac­te­ria to the equip­ment used in mea­sur­ing the donor breast milk, which helps pre­ma­ture in­fants with their nu­tri­tional needs, the health sys­tem said.

The hospi­tal changed the process Sept. 30 to uti­lize only sin­gle- use equip­ment to mea­sure and ad­min­is­ter donor breast milk, and no new cases have been re­ported, Geisinger Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent and Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Dr. Ed­ward Har­tle said in a state­ment.

He noted the breast milk it­self was not the cause of the ex­po­sure and said moth­ers should not be con­cerned about the safety of their own breast milk.

He also said the Health De­part­ment is­sued the hospi­tal a ci­ta­tion Oct. 18 for fail­ing to have a writ­ten pol­icy re­flect­ing the changes made Sept. 30 re­gard­ing clean­ing equip­ment used to mea­sure donor breast milk.

“We would like to ex­tend our sin­cere apolo­gies to the f am­i­lies who have been af­fected by this in­ci­dent,” Har­tle said in the state­ment. “We know that the pub­lic holds us to the high­est stan­dards, and we will con­tinue to strive to live up to those ex­pec­ta­tions as we have through­out our his­tory, con­stantly im­prov­ing on what we do and how we do it.”

But at­tor­ney Matt Casey, of the Philadel­phia law firm

“Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from Geisinger’s state­ment is any

de­tail about when its of­fi­cials first learned of a po­ten­tial prob­lem with the

process it was us­ing to pre­pare donor breast milk.”

Ross Feller Casey, ques­tioned when the hospi­tal knew about the prob­lem with its process, not­ing that hospi­tal of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged know­ing about the out­break for months.

“Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from Geisinger’s state­ment is any de­tail about when its of­fi­cials first learned of a po­ten­tial prob­lem with the process it was us­ing to pre­pare donor breast milk,” Casey said. “We al­ready know there was a con­scious de­ci­sion as early as Au­gust to con­ceal the ex­is­tence of a deadly in­fec­tion trend, and a re­lated, con­scious de­ci­sion to ad­mit pre­ma­ture ba­bies to that ( neona­tal in­ten­sive care unit) de­spite this knowl­edge. As a re­sult, two ba­bies whose par­ents I rep­re­sent are dead.”

Last month, Casey filed suit on be­half of Ha­zle Town­ship res­i­dents Zu­leyka Ro­driguez and Luis David Cepeda al­leg­ing Geisinger doc­tors knew the hospi­tal’s neona­tal in­ten­sive care unit was con­tam­i­nated by the bac­te­ria, yet failed to take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect new­born ba­bies, in­clud­ing their son, Abel Cepeda, who died Sept. 30.

Casey said he is now also rep­re­sent­ing a sec­ond set of par­ents whose twin ba­bies were af­fected by the out­break. One of those ba­bies was among the fa­tal­i­ties, while the sib­ling re­mains in treat­ment, he said.

“This in­ves­ti­ga­tion is only just be­gin­ning, and I strongly urge Geisinger of­fi­cials to dis­close ev­ery­thing they know and when they knew it,” Casey said. “If Geisinger’s apolo­gies to these fam­i­lies are sin­cere, they will make full and com­plete dis­clo­sure. This state­ment falls far short of that.”

Geisinger of­fi­cials said the Pseu­domonas bac­te­ria is present through­out the en­vi­ron­ment and only presents a health risk to frag­ile pa­tients, such a pre­ma­ture ba­bies.

They said that they will con­tinue di­vert­ing pre­ma­ture ba­bies un­der 32 weeks to other hos­pi­tals un­til the Health De­part­ment de­cides on an “ap­pro­pri­ate time” to re­sume nor­mal op­er­a­tions.

MATT CASEY At­tor­ney with Ross Feller Casey

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