Health officials have abruptly halted all elective surgeries at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center after the discovery of mold contamination in a room used to sterilize surgical equipment.
The Boyle Heights hospital, which is part of the L.A. County Department of Health Services system that serves as the safety net for millions of the county’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, will be unable to perform surgery and many other medical procedures for an estimated two weeks, according to an internal hospital email obtained by The Times.
“The Central Sterile processing room, which disinfects all [operating room] and procedural supplies for clinical areas, is suffering from severe water damage and mold contamination and must be closed immediately,” Chief Medical Officer Brad Spellberg wrote to the hospital’s attending physicians and residents on Wednesday. Elective surgeries were canceled the same day.
The 600-bed facility, one of the largest public hospitals in the country, can still disinfect a small amount of surgical equipment, Spellberg wrote, and that will be used for trauma cases. All other procedures, except dentistry, which sterilizes its equipment at an alternative location, would be canceled.
Spellberg declined to comment in an email to The Times on Thursday afternoon. Hal Yee, the chief medical officer for the county, also did not comment.
“LAC+USC has discovered low levels of mold in the air, and mold in the ceiling, in a processing area of the hospital, caused by a water leak,” said an unsigned statement sent to The Times on Thursday afternoon from the Department of Health Services’ Office of Communications. “We have no evidence that mold has affected any surgical instruments.... No patients have been infected or harmed.”
The statement said the mold was discovered only in the last day or two. It did not offer any details on how many patients’ surgeries will be postponed or canceled.
It’s not clear what type of mold was found at the hospital or who discovered it.
Aspergillus mold spores, a very common form of the fungus, were discovered in the air filtration system of Seattle Children’s Hospital earlier this year. That led to confirmed infections in six patients, one of whom died. Hospital administrators sent notifications to 3,000 patients warning them to be vigilant for signs of possible infection.
Seattle Children’s operating rooms were closed from May to July, forcing hundreds of patients to delay surgery or get treatment elsewhere.
Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center is a relatively new facility, which makes the mold contamination more surprising. In 2008, the hospital moved from a cavernous Depression-era building into a new $1.02-billion facility.