Undiagnosed tuberculosis leads to deaths, lawsuits against Las Vegas hospital

by Charles Miller

More than 170 people have filed claims against Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The plaintiffs are hospital employees, former patients and visitors who may have been exposed to tuberculosis last year during a TB outbreak at the hospital. About 60 people involved have since tested positive for tuberculosis.

The outbreak has been traced back to Vanessa White and her newborn twin daughters. According to the lawsuit filed by White’s husband, she was treated at the hospital for four months and was given 30 different diagnoses, but none of them was TB. The lawsuit states that tuberculosis was not mentioned until two days before her death and testing for the disease was not done until one day before her death.

White, who did not know she had the disease, was allowed to visit her twins in the Summerlin Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. White’s visits reportedly caused the outbreak of the disease in the NICU Level III unit.

White and one of her newborn daughter’s died from the disease. The other newborn also died but was not diagnosed with TB. Her husband has sued the hospital for failing to diagnose the disease. Some suggest that the hospital may have been motivated to avoid a TB diagnosis because such a diagnosis triggers mandatory reporting requirements and even potential state oversight of a facility.

Lawsuits filed by others who were exposed to TB similarly accuse Summerlin Hospital of failing to properly screen patients, failing to maintain proper infection controls, and failing to adequately respond once White had died from tuberculosis.

The Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident and found that the hospital failed to protect employees exposed to the fatal tuberculosis outbreak. OSHA labeled six of the violations it found as “serious.”

At least 20 hospital employees were exposed to and contracted TB and exhibited either contagious or latent forms of the disease, according to OSHA. At least one employee who had direct contact with infected patients wasn’t given an initial TB screening until eight weeks after the exposure. At least eight hospital workers who tested positive for TB in the initial screening had to wait seven or more days to have their chest X-rayed to rule out active disease.

The citations ranged from the hospital’s failure to conduct a proper TB risk assessment to its failure to initiate airborne precautions for patients who displayed signs of infection. OSHA also found that the hospital’s exposure control plan failed to include all the significant symptoms that are indicative of a TB diagnosis.

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