TAMPA, Florida – The families of three pediatric cancer patients sued a Florida hospital this week, claiming their children died after contracting fungal infections from renovations being performed at the facility.
The lawsuit filed by parents against St. Joseph's Hospital Inc. in Tampa on Tuesday claims the children were exposed to pathogenic fungi because the hospital failed to properly seal off an area under renovation.
Each of the children — ages 2, 5, and 9 — had been previously diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of white blood cells. Two had recently gone into remission, and a third was still battling the disease.
Attorney Steven Yerrid, who is representing the families, said they believe dust containing the fungus became airborne and invaded the patients' rooms, "where all these children then were forced to engage in yet another battle."
"And this one was unnecessary, and could and should have been prevented," he said.
In a statement, the hospital said patient safety is its top priority, and that they take necessary measures to reduce infections. Those include using barriers around construction areas, filtering the air and monitoring ventilation systems.
All those measures were in place when the infections occurred, spokeswoman Lisa Patterson said. The hospital is part of the BayCare Health System, a network of not-for-profit hospitals in the Tampa Bay region.
"Cancer kills more children than any other disease," the hospital statement read. "Sometimes, despite all the measures we have in place, all the medical expertise we provide, and all the personal care we deliver, patients do not survive."
In each case, tests confirmed the presence of a pathogenic fungi.
The lawsuit says patient rooms were located right above the construction activity, where renovation work would have created a moderate to high level of dust. The air condition systems would have brought air from the outside into patient rooms, it claims.
Sometimes, the patients had to be transported right through the construction area. The parents claim the hospital failed to take common precautions, including sealing the area under construction from non-work areas.
The hospital said that aside from using barriers around construction areas, it also conducts regular preventative maintenance rounds throughout the hospital; infection control, nursing, and other departments work together to provide a clean environment; and they educate families about the importance of infection control measures.