With three new lawsuits filed earlier this month, Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., now faces court challenges from 27 plaintiffs who say they suffered infections because officials tolerated dangerous and unsanitary conditions at the 442-bed hospital.
Hospital officials reject the claims-including several involving charges of wrongful death-and say they are a new twist in a nationwide malpractice crisis that up until now has primarily focused on individual doctors. They have dismissed the lawsuits as "frivolous" and say they will vigorously defend the hospital's reputation in court.
"We believe that when we get into a court of law, we are going to win these lawsuits," said Jeff Polson, a hospital spokesman.
Hank Wagner, president and chief executive officer of the facility's parent, Jewish Hospital HealthCare Services, reacted indignantly to the first set of lawsuits early last month at a news conference at the hospital.
Through Polson, Wagner told Modern Healthcare the hospital has decided to "draw a line in the sand where we are going to aggressively fight these lawsuits and plead our case in court." Wagner said he has received widespread support from community and business leaders who praised the hospital "for finally saying enough is enough about these lawsuits."
His reaction came after 20 lawsuits charged that the hospital's unsanitary conditions led to serious infections or death. This first wave of lawsuits was filed in late June by Louisville attorney Joseph White of the firm of White & Donnell. Since then White has filed seven more.
"We have another four we're about to file," said White, who said he expected to file those lawsuits late last week. "And more will follow that. We've had calls from about 250 people. It appears to be a systemic problem. The stories from these people are very consistent."
The lawsuits, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, allege that patients were placed in rooms that had not been cleaned and that hospital officials tolerated the conditions even though they recognized the dangers to the patients. No court dates have been set in the cases, which have been consolidated for the purpose of discovery, White said.
White said roughly a quarter of the cases involve allegations of wrongful death. Most of the patients who filed lawsuits allege they were infected with bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a common bacteria that can be particularly debilitating to sick or frail patients whose immune systems are already weakened.
White said he dismissed the hospital's allegations that the large number of lawsuits were aimed at forcing officials to settle quickly and avoid further publicity. He said critics had alleged that he was involved in some form of a "legal shakedown."
"Absolutely not," he said. "These cases are based in law and in fact. We have so many cases, and so many witnesses, that I think to say that this is anything other than legitimate is simply not in touch with the facts of these cases."