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Allegheny General Hospital sued over 2015 infection death

Ben Schmitt
| Thursday, May 19, 2016, 11:45 p.m.

The family of a Munhall woman sued Allegheny General Hospital on Thursday, claiming its staff failed to properly clean a medical scope that infected the woman with a highly resistant superbug that ultimately killed her.

Last year, retired schoolteacher Elsie Florian sued the scope's manufacturer, Olympus, when she was still alive and sick with the infection. Her family's attorneys continued to investigate the matter after her death on April 17, 2015.

“A little outpatient procedure turned into a nightmare for us,” said Florian's daughter, Debbie Smoody, 54, of Munhall. “Had we more information about all these dangers, maybe we would have done things differently.”

A U.S. Senate investigation into the cleanliness of the duodenoscopes, which have caused outbreaks across the country, revealed that AGH did not properly disinfect the scopes and failed to use fresh water in attempts to clean them.

AGH officials declined to comment through Allegheny Health Network spokesman Dan Laurent.

Pittsburgh attorney Brendan Lupetin of Meyers Evans Lupetin & Unatin said the Senate report led his firm to file a new lawsuit that includes AGH and Olympus as defendants. The lawsuit filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court alleges wrongful death and negligence.

Duodenoscopes, which are placed down the throat to examine digestive problems, have been linked to infections and deaths at hospitals across the country.

The January report from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, blamed the device manufacturer, hospitals and the Food and Drug Administration for the infections that have sickened at least 250 people worldwide since 2012 and might have caused dozens of deaths.

Florian, 76, who taught for 25 years at St. Therese School in Munhall, contracted a superbug called CRE, or carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, when she was exposed to a contaminated duodenoscope in the North Side hospital on Feb. 23, 2015, according to the suit. Her infection surfaced after doctors used the scope to diagnose a blocked bile duct in her liver. Several days later, she became extremely ill and was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit. She never fully recovered and died in April after briefly returning home.

Tests after her death revealed the infection, according to the lawsuit.

“AGH compounded the problem by having deficiencies in its cleaning system,” Lupetin said. “For example, they were cleaning multiple scopes in the same water bath.”

Smoody said she hopes her lawsuit continues to raise awareness about the contaminated scopes.

“The more I find out about these cases, the more terrified I become for others,” she said. “It makes me sick to my stomach to think other families have gone through this. Those fortunate enough to recover still have to deal with health repercussions from the bacteria. It's horrible, and it has to be stopped.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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