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Duke Health wants contractor to pay for hydraulic fluid mix-up

Duke University Health System has demanded an arbitrator hear its complaint against a vendor in connection with surgical instruments that were contaminated by used hydraulic fluid.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University Health System has demanded an arbitrator hear its complaint against a vendor in connection with surgical instruments that were contaminated by used hydraulic fluid.

About 3,800 surgical patients at Durham Regional Hospital and Duke Health Raleigh Hospital were exposed in late 2004 to instruments that had been washed with used hydraulic fluid instead of the usual cleaner. The fluid had been drained from hospital elevators and put in empty detergent drums, then mistakenly shipped back to the hospitals.

Dozens of patients said they suffered health problems ranging from infections to immune system reactions after the exposure. Duke Health officials have maintained the instruments were safe because they were sterilized after being washed in the hydraulic fluid, but they recently settled claims with an undisclosed number of patients.

Duke Health is seeking damages from Aramark Management Services, which Duke had contracted to maintain equipment in the two hospitals, including sterilizers. Aramark workers were negligent in not responding to complaints from surgeons and nurses about oily instruments, which could have corrected the problem with the hydraulic fluid, according to the petition for arbitration.

The petition asks that Aramark pay settlements, medical monitoring costs for surgery patients, costs of investigations, attorney fees and lost hospital revenue. Duke did not specify a dollar figure.

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