Family disturbed by UPMC statements on mold death
Chelsea Haines can’t get over UPMC’s description of her father as an “avid gardener.”
Her dad, John R. Haines, had a small plot on his Upper St. Clair property where he grew tomatoes and a few vegetables.
“It was a hobby of his, not a big endeavor,” she said. “The garden itself is very small.”
The description of Haines by UPMC appeared in an emailed statement to the media after his family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the health giant Tuesday.
Haines, a leukemia patient, died at UPMC Shadyside on Oct. 7. The lawsuit filed in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas contends a hospital-acquired rhizopus mold infection diagnosed two days earlier contributed to his death.
Haines, 65, a retired AT&T communications technician, is the sixth person believed to have died after contracting a fungal infection inside a UPMC facility since 2014.
“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,” UPMC said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Chelsea Haines, 31, of New York, was upset by the statement.
“My mother was asked by doctors at the hospital what are my dad’s hobbies and she said gardening among other things, also cooking, carpentry, watching the Steelers,” she said. “I assume this is where they are getting this information.”
She recalled the day at UPMC Shadyside when the family decided to authorize doctors to disconnect her father from a respirator that was keeping him alive.
A doctor handed her mother, Joanne, a letter addressed to John Haines, hours before he died. It read, “During your stay, you developed an infection in addition to the infection you presented with to UPMC Shadyside. This was identified by positive culture results and/or symptoms you may have experienced.”
UPMC patient safety officer Lisa Donahue signed the letter and the doctor, David Weber, was copied. A duplicate arrived at the Haines home a few days later.
“Why UPMC would give us a letter acknowledging that my dad contracted an infection while in the hospital and later try to claim that it related to something else?” Chelsea Haines said. “It’s contradictory. My dad was sick during the summer. He wasn’t in the garden at all.”
Besides UPMC, lawyers for Haines’ family also are suing linen supplier Paris Healthcare Linen Services of DuBois. The lawsuit marks the first time that a hospital other than UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore has been connected to the mold crisis outbreak at UPMC. The crisis led to the temporary suspension of UPMC’s prestigious transplant program in September 2015.
UPMC officials said Haines was extremely sick when he was admitted to the Shadyside facility. He had tested positive for pseudomonas, an often deadly bacteria, and was diagnosed with leukemia. His immune system was not functioning, UPMC said.
“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,” the UPMC statement said. “Despite our best protocols, it can still be carried into the hospital on the shoes or clothes of visitors.”
At the time of his initial admission, Haines did not have any kind of fungal infection, according to Pittsburgh attorneys Brendan Lupetin and Jerry Meyers.
“Fungus is everywhere, that’s true,” Meyers said. “But I’ll tell you one place it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be in operating rooms. It shouldn’t be in ICUs. It’s everywhere, which is why there’s a diligent effort in hospitals all over the United States who do work on immune-compromised people to protect them.”
Five families have taken legal action in connection with the mold incidents. Among them, two cases have settled for $1.35 million apiece.
A source of the fungal infections has not been determined, although a previous CDC source pointed to a ventilation system in the UPMC Presbyterian cases.
In January, an internal UPMC report surfaced indicating heavy mold growth was found in linens delivered by Paris to UPMC Montefiore.
UPMC hired Andrew Streifel, a hospital environment specialist with the University of Minnesota’s department of environmental health and safety, to investigate Paris Healthcare Linen Services.
As part of the investigation, Streifel inspected a linen cart delivered by Paris to UPMC Montefiore on Feb. 2, 2016. Samples showed “heavy fungal growth” of rhizopus in the “wet sheets collected from the UPMC laundry carts,” he wrote in the report. He also found rhizopus mold at the Paris facility and on its roof.
In a Jan. 27 interview with the Tribune-Review, Streifel said he suspects laundry was the source of fungal infections that killed transplant patients.
Paris CEO Dave Stern issued a statement Tuesday saying the company consistently meets or exceeds accreditation standards and regulatory guidelines for laundering linens.
“We continue to cooperate with all regulatory agencies involved in the oversight of linen processing,” he said. “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.”
Despite the new report regarding Paris, the CDC has said it’s not taking any further action. Neither is the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“Why you hire someone to investigate and then disregard what they say, I don’t understand,” Meyers said of UPMC and Streifel. “Their investigator told them, ‘It’s the linen.'”
Lupetin said it’s imperative that authorities investigate further.
“Here is another case,” he said of Haines. “Here is another type of immune-suppressed patient that needlessly developed this very, very, very rare type of fungal infection. And we expect there will be more in the future. So let’s get to the bottom of this. Let’s get the CDC back. Let’s get a definite and answer to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen to more patients.”
Chelsea Haines, who is an art history doctoral student at City University of New York, said she would like UPMC to take responsibility.
“It’s almost like they are trying to put blame on my dad for contracting the infection.” she said.
John Haines grew up in Mt. Lebanon and was married to Joanne for more than 35 years. The couple had two daughters, Chelsea and Sarah, and a 10-year-old grandson, Max.
He loved family gatherings, holiday dinners and cookouts.
“Dad was a generous, kind, humorous person, who would go out on a limb for anyone, especially his children and his grandson,” Chlesea Haines said. “As an art historian, I travel overseas a lot and he always kept a copy of his current passport with him, just in case I was in trouble.
“I want people to know that about him.”