Changes coming to Aspergillus reporting requirements

After six deaths at Seattle Children's Hospital -- King County is changing the way cases of Aspergillus are reported.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — After six deaths at Seattle Children's Hospital, King County announced Thursday it will change the way cases of Aspergillus are reported.

The move comes days after the hospital revealed the problems with mold go all the way back to 2001.

Right now, reporting is only required from a healthcare facility when there's an outbreak, which is two or more connected cases.

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But King County said now it recognizes cases that seem separate could actually be related, as with some cases at Children's that were years apart.

The county is working to start requiring any case of hospital-associated Aspergillus infection to be reported starting in the first quarter of 2020.

"Potentially we'd have earlier indications of possible problems that would allow more eyes to be brought on a problem earlier. And that theoretically, could help identify these types of unusual circumstances like what we're seeing at Seattle Children's," said Dr. Jeff Duchin with King County and Seattle Public Health.

King County and Seattle Public Health said it's working with Children's, the CDC, and the Washington State Department of Health on further safety improvements.

Meanwhile, 255 surgeries at Children's have been canceled.

Eight-year-old Desiraye Smith has sleep apnea among other health problems and needs surgery.

"Her oxygen cuts off when she lays down to sleep," said Jennifer Ellis, Desiraye's mom.

She was supposed get that surgery in a few days but Ellis got a call on Wednesday, "telling us that it was rescheduled for December 7th on a Saturday, due to the ‘air quality' is what they called it," Ellis said.

She said Children's did not mention the Aspergillus mold problem, the people who got sick, or the cases where six patients died.

"We've been there twice a month over the last year, and we've never been told about it until it hit the news" Ellis said. "They should be more concerned with the children first, rather than the hospital itself and their reputation," she said.

She and other parents have reached out to KIRO7, asking what is Children's Hospital doing to fix the problem, and how are health officials making sure it happens.

KIRO7's Deedee Sun took their concerns to King County and Seattle Public Health.

"What are the options now? And what insight do you have on what the hospital can do to make their environment safe again?" Sun asked.

"They will now be taking some of the most extensive protective measures for their patients," Duchin said.

Duchin said measures include special HEPA filters in every operating room – adding that most operating rooms don't have them – and said the hospital will put in a brand new air handling system.

Duchin said there is a big challenge in trying to resolve the problem.

"In the context of Aspergillus, very little is known. This is a rare infection first of all and there are very little hospital outbreaks like this one from which we can learn," he said.

He added according to the CDC, because the mold is so common, it is impossible to get the risk down to zero.

Children's Hospital said in a statement, "We are committed to an appropriate and timely resolution,"  and said its CEO is developing a "comprehensive systems-improvement" plan, but did not give a specific timeline.

Ellis said she still plans to change hospitals. She doesn't believe it will be safe enough to take her daughter there for surgery on the 7th, and said the hospital needs to be more transparent.

"Just changes my views on them all together," Ellis said. "We really trusted them," she said.

Though she said her daughter can't sleep and is struggling in school because of it, she's opting to wait months longer for the surgery in order to switch hospitals altogether.

"Starting over is better than a risk of losing my daughter," Ellis said.

Seattle Children's Hospital released this statement on Thursday:

Statement from Susan Mask, Chair Seattle Children's Hospital Board of Trustees:

We are deeply saddened by the Aspergillus infections and the impact they have had on our patients and their families.
Because patients and their families come first at Seattle Children's, the community rightly expects us to fix this problem quickly. We are committed to an appropriate and timely resolution.
Decisive actions speak louder than words in this situation. We have given Seattle Children's CEO, Dr. Jeff Sperring, our full support – and the authority – to do what is necessary to make this right.
We have confidence in the comprehensive systems-improvement plans Dr. Sperring is developing and will implement with his team, including an external assessment of our hospital facilities. Oversight is the Board of Trustees' fundamental role. We have been advised and are monitoring the situation closely.
The community has trusted Seattle Children's to care for the sickest and most vulnerable kids in our region for 112 years. The community is now looking to Seattle Children's to resolve these issues, and we will remain steadfast until we do.