Local News

Winston-Salem Hospital Says It Also Received Containers With Hydraulic Fluid

Posted June 22, 2005 5:03 a.m. EDT
Updated December 10, 2006 1:50 p.m. EST

— Another North Carolina hospital says it received containers filled with hydraulic fluid from the same supplier that two Duke University Health System hospitals used, but figured out the mistake before surgical tools were ever used on its patients.

A spokesman for Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem said Wednesday that two loads of tools were washed on Dec. 13, but employees noticed that the fluid in the containers was darker and had a greasy texture.

The hospital said it immediately notified the supplier, Cardinal Health Inc., and received a refund.

According to a state investigation, staff members at the two Duke-affiliated hospitals did notice the oily instruments and reported it to management as early as November.

Duke Health has not yet responded to this latest development.

Also, Wednesday, a law firm representing an affected patient filed a subpoena asking Duke Health to provide the test results on the chemical make-up of the substance.

"Our primary concern right now is we want to know what was in the fluid," Stradley said. "Our clients need to know to address health issues."

Attorney David Stradley said he repeatedly asked Duke Health for a sample of the hydraulic fluid in question. Stradley told WRAL Wednesday morning that he made the request back in February soon after word of the mistake surfaced.

"This is old contaminated, dirty fluid," Stradley said. "It was drained from an elevator and put in barrels that eventually made its way to the surgical cleaning process."

Affected patients tell WRAL that they have suffered swollen limbs and delayed recoveries. No one knows yet if the problems are related to the mix-up, but Stradley feels it is taking too long to find out. "Duke says it takes six months. That's not what our experts tell us," he said. "They've got the fluid, my experts can't even speculate."

The subpoena also asks for independent tests on the hydraulic fluid that nearly 4,000 patients may have been exposed to during surgeries in November and December at two Duke-affiliated hospitals.

Duke Health has filed its own legal paperwork asking that if the order is granted some information remain confidential.

The confidentiality issue is two-fold. Duke Health's attorneys point to the attorney-client privilege, as well as rights to the maker of the hydraulic fluid, saying for competitive reasons the company may not want the contents of the fluid to be known.

Because the hydraulic fluid was used for an elevator, it is not enough to know what was in the product itself. Experts said the sample could contain other substances.

Duke Health would not comment on the subpoena.

In a letter sent to patients this week, Duke Health said it would take a few more weeks to know for sure what was in used hydraulic fluid that was mistakenly used to wash surgical instruments.

A court hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.