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‘Foul-smelling black water’ is still plaguing Congress’s favorite hospital

A Washington, DC hospital known for treating government Capitol Hill politicians has been plagued by sewage leaks in its operating room and is now being sued for the alleged wrongful death of a grandmother.

The trouble for MedStar Washington Hospital Center began back in August of 2016, when the DC health department found multiple leaks, including some that were seeping sewage into at least two operating rooms. 

Then, the health department sent another warning letter to the hospital in August of 2017, just a month after Representative Steve Scalise was readmitted with an infection he had developed after his gunshot wound was treated there. 

Now, the family of Carol Leonard, who developed a lethal infection after having a minimally invasive operation at Medstar is suing the hospital, alleging that the foul conditions of its operating rooms are to blame for her death. 

Multiple sewage leaks have been reported in operating rooms at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, and now one family alleges the contamination killed a grandmother

Even in a clean hospital, infection is everywhere. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 25 patients in any give hospital on any given day has at least one infection that they picked up at the hospital. 

Add to that the 720,000 infections annual hospital infections the 154 diseases that are commonly found in sewage in the US, and you have a dangerous place indeed. 

For hospital-associated infections (HAIs) in general, the CDC advises that ‘research shows that when healthcare facilities, care teams, and individual doctors and nurses are aware of infection problems and take specific steps to avoid them, rates of some targeted HAIs can decrease by more than 70 percent.’  

But in the case of MedStar Washington, the local health department ‘interviewed a couple of employees for remediation’ – the process of cleaning up the sewage leaks –  ‘and they had not even been made aware that there was a problem,’ said Scott Perry, the Leonard family’s attorney. 

Perry, who obtained a copy of both the health Department’s 2016 and its 2017 report on MedStar, claims that the hospital was supposed to ‘clean it up a specific way, but were not cleaning the leaks up in a satisfactory way.’

So when Carol Leonard and her family of Falls Church, Virginia, chose MedStar Washington to have her cancerous thyroid surgically removed, the family was allegedly unaware that the 70-year-old’s operation fell ‘right in the middle’ of the two reports of unsanitary conditions, Perry says.

There was a black, grainy, foul-smelling substance was observed on the floor

 August 2017 health department report on MedStar Washington

Her procedure is a minimally invasive one and considered fairly low-risk as it does not involve parts of the body with dense populations of bacteria, like the gut or mouth. 

The surgery went smoothly, and Leonard’s son, Eugene was sent home for the night, but told he could pick her up at 9.30 the next morning. 

But before he could do so, Eugene got a call from the hospital, asking him to come right away. 

When he arrived, his mother was ‘in the ICU, in a coma, with tubes coming out of her from everywhere,’ says Perry. 

Leonard was in septic shock from a strep A infection she had picked up while at the hospital. 

That is ‘not something you should get from this surgery, generally speaking,’ says Perry, ‘so how did that happen?’ 

He applied for copies of the health department’s reports through the FOIA, and found that they ‘talked about the problem of an unsterile environment of an operating room.’ 

Leonard was also not put on antibiotics to help proactively prevent an infection during the surgery. 

‘That is okay, depending on the circumstances, but, when you have someone who is elderly, obese and diabetic and if you know that you’re having trouble with sewage in the operating room,’ Perry says that Leonard should have but was ‘never given the choice to go somewhere else or to put her on antibiotics prophylactically.’ 

MedStar does a ton of advertizing, and they have to disclose not just the good things, but the problems they are experiencing so a consumer can make informed decisions, but that didn’t happen here

Scott Perry, medical malpractice attorney for the Leonard family

Leonard died at the hospital on February 15, 2017. 

Six months later, the health department was back on MedStar Washington’s case. 

This time, the agency was threatening that the hospital was in ‘immediate jeopardy’ of losing their Medicaid and Medicare funding.

The inspectors found that the hospital had ‘failed to adequately address and curtail recurring sewage leaks in the Operating Room (OR); potentially exposing patients to microbial contamination of the sterile environment during operative procedures.’ 

They wrote that over the course of the 11 months since their last visit, seven patients could have been exposed to contamination via ‘black water’ leaks. 

During the August visit, the health department noted that ‘a black, grainy, foul-smelling substance was observed on the floor’ of one of the rooms. 

The ‘immediate jeopardy’ status was lifted on August 21, 2017. But, it appears that neither the hospital nor the health department ever made any public announcement, nor were the hospital’s operating rooms effectively shut down. 

MedStar Washington spokeswoman So Young Pak told Daily Mail Online that there had been ‘minor leaks,’ that they had ‘closed the room immediately, conducted necessary repairs, cleaned and sterilized it, and brought in an outside hygienist to ensure that the room was safe for patient care. 

‘We have had no new leaks since August 2017,’ she said. 

Despite the threat that it could lose funding, there appears to be no requirement for the hospital to shut down nor to notify patients.

‘Hospitals are a big business. MedStar does a ton of advertizing, and they have to disclose not just the good things, but the problems they are experiencing so a consumer can make informed decisions,’ Perry argues, ‘but that didn’t happen here.’

Instead, Leonard’s family is spending the aftermath of the death of their ‘beloved family member’ fighting for ‘the right to know what’s going on and to make their own decisions,’ Perry alleges.