Mold in Operating Rooms Calls For Increased Action
A leading children’s hospital in the Pacific Northwest was forced to close a number of its operating rooms and contact the families of thousands of recent patients after discovering mold. This highlights a troubling truth: Even when rigorous protocols – including periodic inspections – are in place, health care organizations can still suffer frequent and sometimes dramatic environmental losses that can threaten patient safety and disrupt operations. And mold is just the tip of the iceberg.
Hospitals Face Multiple Environmental Risks
The mold in question, Aspergillus, is one of the two most prevalent fungal infections found in hospitals. Although its effects tend to be mild in healthy people, Aspergillus is especially aggressive when it occurs in compromised or dampened immune systems, such as those of people undergoing surgery. And because of its small size, Aspergillus spores can be easily dispersed into the air and deposited into the lungs.
Mold is just one of the many environmental risks that can result in material losses for the health care industry, adversely affecting operations and patients. These include:
- The release of medical waste, both on- and off-premises.
- Facility-borne illnesses, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as a result of operations.
- Acidic laboratory, x-ray, and maintenance chemicals dumped into drains.
- Structural contaminants, such as asbestos, lead-based paint, and radon build-up in basements.
- Electrical equipment containing polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB).
Hospitals and other health care entities tend to have rigorous protocols in place to mitigate their environmental risks, including mold. These include periodic inspections that are primarily focused on areas prone to moisture, documenting and reporting their findings, and addressing any problems and tracking any remediation work. But even these rigorous protocols aren’t always enough to protect an organization.
The Value of PLL Policies
The pediatric hospital struck by Aspergillus will need to manage on-site cleanup and remediation expenses. Health care entities affected by an environmental issue will likely have to delay dozens of appointments, including pre-scheduled, non-urgent surgeries, leading to significant revenue losses. And any health care institution suffering a significant environmental loss is likely to experience a public relations crisis.
Many standard forms of commercial insurance coverage, however — including general liability, excess liability, and auto liability policies — are not designed to address the full scope of environmental risks that a health care organization could face.
In contrast, pollution legal liability (PLL) policies are not subject to time element and named peril exclusions and are often used by health care organizations as a backstop to environmental exposure. PLL policies often include coverage for business interruption and crisis management services from reputable firms in the form of a potential additional sublimit. PLL policies are also readily available and relatively affordable, especially considering the benefits they can provide.
While having the right protocols is an important first step, it is not always an effective last line of defense. Now is the time for health care organizations to assess exposures, minimize risk by implementing protocols whenever possible, and potentially transfer environmental exposures like mold.