Roper Hospital under fire following infection outbreak

Call Collett

On Monday, attorneys for former Roper Hospital patients filed lawsuits calling the hospital “grossly negligent” in protecting patients from bacteria growing in the hospital’s water system.

Attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC tell News 2 their clients required months of antibiotics and repeated surgeries to clear up infections acquired after surgery.

In their request for jury trials, the suits alleges the hospital paid hefty bonuses to executives instead of investing in water system infrastructure updates.

The SC Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control began investigating Roper Hospital in July 2016 after roughly two dozen patients became sick following surgery at the downtown location.  A majority of those patients were breast cancer survivors undergoing breast reconstruction.

The infections were caused by non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), and health investigators found elevated microbes in the hospital’s water system. 

A spokesman for the hospital told News 2 the hospital “found no proof that patients became infected at Roper Hospital.”

Eight months after the health regulators launched their investigation and recommended changes to the hospital, patients at the downtown location continued to get sick.

In a letter from March 2017, DHEC’s Epidemiologist, Dr. Linda Bell, recommended the hospital implement a water treatment system that addressed the bacteria and biofilm in the water distribution system.  Dr. Bell also told the hospital their infection control practices needed to be improved, and staff needed more training to control infection.

“The negligent, grossly negligent, reckless, and/or wanton acts and/or omissions of many different people allowed the deadly pathogens to exist and populate.  This conduct amounts to conscious disregard for maintaining a safe and sterile facility, or for safely performing medical procedures,” the complaint reads.

News 2 has been asking Roper Hospital officials for information about the outbreak, but the hospital would not answer those questions.   Instead, a spokesman provided a statement on behalf of Dr. Todd Shuman that read in part: 

““All directives were implemented, processes and training were strengthened, and our team went beyond national best practices to prevent the development of this previously thought uncommon infection.” 

DHEC also required the hospital to alert patients of the water system problems and the possibility of infection, attorney Randy Hood, who is representing some of the sickened patients, tells News 2 at least two of his clients never received notice.  Hoods claims clients were falling ill as far back at 2011.

According to a DHEC advisory last summer, “diagnosis of NTM infections can be difficult, particularly given the extended incubation periods that have been reported with these infections.” On average, patients didn’t show signs of the illness for two months.  It can take even longer to show symptoms.

“NTM are slow-growing bacteria that can be found in surface water, tap water, and soil,” according to the advisory.

 It has been 11 months since a Roper Hospital patient underwent a surgical procedure with the subsequent development of this type of infection, according to the hospital spokesman. 

News 2 inquired with MUSC, the VA, and Trident Hospitals.  Both the VA and Trident reported no patients with NTM infections during the last two years.  

“When MUSC was informed by Roper about these concerns over a year ago, we immediately reviewed all cultures to identify patients with these infections, and to look for any commonalities or trends.  We have continued these reviews to date,” Dr. Danielle Scheurer, MUSC Hospitalist and Chief Quality Officer, told News 2.  “Although there have been a very limited number of patients with these infections after surgical procedures, we cannot find any commonalities or trends related to specific procedures. We will continue to vigilantly monitor for these infections to ensure patient safety.” 

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