A $1.5 billion putative class action accusing Tenet Healthcare Corp. of failing to protect patients and newborns from being exposed to tuberculosis at one of its hospitals has been moved to federal court.
The lawsuit, which could represent the families of 3,000 children delivered at Tenet's Hospitals of Providence Memorial Campus facility in El Paso, Texas, alleges hospital officials ignored a nurse assistant's tuberculosis symptoms and had her work 12-hour shifts that put her in close contact to newborn infants and their families for months.
The former employee, Esperanza Martinez, notified the hospital in December 2013 that she was presenting symptoms of active tuberculosis, but she wasn't taken off duty until August 2014. During that time, approximately 3,000 newborns may have been bathed or fed by the nurse's assistant.
“By allowing an employee who displayed symptoms of an infectious disease to continue working in and around hospital grounds, the defendants acted negligently, carelessly, recklessly and with a conscious disregard for the plaintiffs' safety and rights,” the complaint said.
But the families accuse Providence Memorial and Tenet of trying to minimize the extent of the exposure by failing to alert thousands of families of the potential exposure. Rather than notifying all families whose children were born in the hospital during the months in question, Tenet allegedly only sent letters to those whose infants were born on days where Martinez was working.
In September 2014, the hospital claimed approximately 700 infants were exposed to tuberculosis by the nurse's assistant, and said they would work with federal authorities to show that its procedures for protecting patients were adequate. Later that month, the Texas Department of State Health Services released a report saying Providence Memorial failed to effectively protect its patients from exposure.
Infants born when Martinez was off duty may still have come in contact with the nurse's assistant during their hospital stays, according to the lawsuit. However, their tuberculosis tests will not be covered by the hospital, and the plaintiffs say that's an attempt to hide negligence.
The proposed class action was initially filed in a Texas state court, but Tenet requested the suit be moved to federal court because of its size.
The families have asked the court to force Tenet to pay for “gold standard” tuberculosis tests that will be more accurate than a typical skin test and chest X-ray. The more accurate tests are also more expensive, at $150 per test. They have also requested the tests be interpreted by an impartial third party; the initial tuberculosis tests on infants were interpreted by Providence Memorial employees, the complaint said. The parents voiced concern that the employees could be biased and try to minimize the hospital's liability.
In addition, the plaintiffs have also requested damages for lost earnings, mental anguish, bodily injury and other issues stemming from the tuberculosis exposure. They estimate the total damages will exceed $1.5 billion.