When we think about mold, most of us probably think of the battle we fight whenever we clean our bathrooms. All it takes, however, is a little bathroom spray mixing with a little elbow grease, and the bathtub and shower are looking as good as new. Other times, we might think of mold remediation in the home. An undiscovered water leak can lead to very unpleasant – and expensive – surprises as the work of cleaning up months or years or toxic mold buildup begins.
Mold can come from the most unlikely of places however, and that is the focus of a new lawsuit filed against UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) over the death of Katherine Landman. A recent story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details the story of the mother of two, and how she was allegedly killed by a mold infection contracted from hospital linens.
Ms. Landman was undergoing treatment for acute myeloid leukemia at UPMC’s Shadyside facility. In preparation for a second bone marrow transplant, she was admitted to Shadyside on July 15, 2015 for chemotherapy treatments. On August 10, just 24 days later, she began showing symptoms of a sinus infection.
That month, she would endure two surgeries, but neither would be for the cancer that initially brought her to the hospital. Instead, they would be attempts to remove the mold infection that had taken root in her sinuses. The attempts would fail, however, and Katherine Landman died on October 11, 2015.
While the death of Ms. Landman is tragic, it is not the most striking aspect of this story. The most striking aspect is that this is the not the first time that an alleged link has been drawn between a UPMC patient’s death and mold. There have, in fact, been six others.
Theories abound as to the cause and all sides are, of course, pointing fingers at anyone but themselves. But a common thread seems to run through all the cases and that is the facility where UPMC has its linens cleaned: Paris Cleaners. In fact, UPMC conducted its own investigation of Paris Cleaners and found mold that was similar to what allegedly killed seven of its patients. The university, however, states that these results of an internal investigation do not link the seven cases. In fact, even after conducting its own investigation, UPMC also references an investigation carried out by the Centers for Disease Control that found no source for the mold within the UPMC system.
Hospital officials are instead focusing their attention on possible external causes for the patients’ mold infections. In one case, they believe a patient may have contracted his infection from gardening. In Ms. Landman’s case, the hospital contends that her sinus infection was pre-existing.
The timeline for how a mold infection takes hold, however, appears to contradict such a conclusion. When the CDC conducted its investigation of UPMC facilities in 2015, the agency stated that a hospital-acquired infection could be deemed “probable” if the infected patient had been in the facility for at least two weeks prior to showing symptoms.
Ms. Landman had been there for more than three.