Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2018

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Staff, visitors sue Summerlin Hospital in TB case

Eight employees, former patients and visitors have filed a negligence lawsuit seeking damages from a Las Vegas hospital where they say they were exposed to a woman and at least one newborn baby with tuberculosis.

The civil lawsuit filed Monday in state court alleges that administrators at the northwest Las Vegas facility failed to recognize and take basic precautions to diagnose the infected woman's contagious lung disease when she gave birth May 11 to premature twin daughters, and allowed the woman to continue visiting her babies after she was discharged.

One of 25-year-old Vanessa White's children died June 1 after 21 days. White died July 1 at a Los Angeles hospital and was diagnosed with tuberculosis through an autopsy. Her other daughter died of tuberculosis on Aug. 1 at Summerlin Hospital.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Matthew Callister, was on behalf of three Summerlin Hospital respiratory therapists, two former patients and three visitors.

Hospital officials said they would fight the claims.

"Although we have not yet seen the lawsuit, Summerlin Hospital intends to defend this case vigorously and looks forward to our opportunity to present all of the facts of this matter in court," hospital spokeswoman Gretchen Papez said.

The lawsuit comes two weeks after White's family announced plans to sue, saying the hospital missed clues that could have saved White's life. Doctors conducted multiple tests, but didn't pursue the possibility of TB after a nurse screened for symptoms and ruled out the condition, according to family lawyer Robert Cottle.

Attorneys are still building their case and said they expect to file that suit in January. They haven't specified the damages they'll seek.

"No amount of money is going to compensate Mr. White, Ruben, for what happened to him," lawyer Matt Minucci said about Vanessa White's husband. But he said he hopes the suit will raise awareness about the illness and lead to correct diagnoses.

"TB is on the rise and people need to be thinking TB."

The lawsuit filed Monday seeks class-action status and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from the hospital, its parent corporations Valley Health System LLC and Universal Health Services Inc., and five administrators in the facility's intensive care, neonatal intensive care, pulmonary services and infection control units.

It alleges they didn't follow isolation guidelines, and failed to screen and diagnose White while she exhibited symptoms of tuberculosis and visited the hospital and its neonatal intensive care unit without protective clothing.

The Southern Nevada Health District began in August to advise parents of 140 babies that they may have been exposed to tuberculosis, the lawsuit said. The Nevada Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance issued a report Nov. 1 faulting Summerlin administrators and staff for failing to take precautions and warn people about possible exposure.

More than 400 people have been tested so far for tuberculosis, and testing is ongoing, the lawsuit said.

About 95 percent of the infants from the NICU had been tested as of last week, and none have turned up positive for the illness, according to health district spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel. The babies will need to be retested in six months and then again in a year before they are fully cleared.

Associated Press writer Ken Ritter contributed to this report.

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