Children's Hospital apologized Thursday for its handling of information about a deadly fungus that claimed the lives of five patients between 2008 and 2009 at the medical facility.
Children's has been responding to news media inquiries and public concerns since FOX 8 News first reported earlier this week that five children died of an invasive fungal infection - mucormycosis - that contaminated hospital linens. The infection is most dangerous to those with weak or comprised immune systems.
The revelation of the deaths came to light on a broader scale because the information was being published in the May edition of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.
Saying that a Thursday new conference was held in the "spirit of transparency" hospital executives said mistakes were made in disseminating information about the fungus to the families of the children who died.
"Regrettably, it's become clear that we did not, although I think we made an extraordinary effort to contain and identify the source of this infection, we did not make an extraordinary effort to communicate with our families and disclose the nature of this illness," said John Heaton, Associate Medical Director for Children's Hospital. "It's personally appalling to me that we find that some of the families are finding out that their child was involved in an outbreak by reading the newspaper."
"We treat the patients that are entrusted to us as we would our own," said Mary Perrin, the recently announced President and CEO of Children's Hospital.
Perrin said they realize this is a difficult time for the deceased children's families.
"We recognize how difficult this is for these families, years after their child has been hospitalized, to go through these matters again," she said. "But we feel it's important to give them all of the information that we have that's relevant to their child's stay here."
Heaton said they believe the infection was only "contributory" to the deaths, and not the primary cause.
The CDC told FOX 8 News this week that it disseminated the information about the outbreak in 2010 during a conference for infection control practitioners, but many in the local medical community were stunned and outraged that the public had not been informed before now.
"I don't blame just Children's Hospital officials, I also blame the state health department. I blame the federal health authorities. This information should have been disseminated," said Dr. Brobson Lutz, an infectious disease doctor and former New Orleans city government health department director who is also part of the Orleans Parish Medical Society.
Lutz said two physicians from Children's Hospital met with him Wednesday to discuss his concerns.
"Neither of these physicians were in an area of responsibility when it happened," he said. "Their take on it was it was recorded to CDC and then the state health department, and then CDC came to town and investigated it and that fulfilled any obligation that they had."
Heaton, who was not the medical director at the time of the deadly outbreak, said nothing was done out of malice.
"This was not done to conceal anything or with malice of forethought," he said. "I think in our zeal to comply, or go above the standards for compliance and focus on stopping the infection, we forgot those who went before."
He said the hospital had begun contacting the families of the children affected, living and dead.
"I have personally reached out to several of these families today to express our regret, to communicate all of the information that we have, and those I was unable to reach today we will reach by mail, or hopefully by telephone going forward," Heaton said.
Heaton said toward the end of the outbreak period, two patients in the hospital's ICU were found to have similar skin lesions, and staffers alerted the infection control department.
"It wasn't until some clinicians put together the two and two that the alarm went off," said Heaton.
Heaton said the hospital conducted a "rapid" investigation and reached out of the state health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control.
But still he emphasized that other aspects of the way the situation was handled could have been better.
"Because we failed to do what we should have done, pure and simple, we dropped the ball," Heaton said.
Some lawsuits have been filed as a result of the deaths. The parents of 13-year-old Zachary Tyler are suing the hospital and the linen cleaning company, TLC Service, Inc.
Children's Hospital said because of HIPPA laws relating to patient confidentiality, it was unable to answer questions pertaining to specific patients. Additionally, hospital spokesman Brian Landry said they would not comment on litigation relating to the fungal outbreak.