Nov. 9 (UPI) -- A lawsuit filed this week accused a Pennsylvania hospital of negligence in failing to let families know about a bacterial contamination in donor breast milk that killed three babies and sickened eight.
Eight babies born at less than 27 weeks gestation at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., became ill after exposure to the same bacteria and three of them died, but parents remained in the dark, the lawsuit alleges.
The family of Abel Cepeda, who lived five days before he become the third baby to die, is part of the lawsuit. His mother was admitted Sept. 18. The first baby died after exposure to the bacteria in August and all of the illnesses and deaths involved babies in Geisinger's neonatal intensive care unit, doctors said.
Staff said they noticed "unusual" illnesses before the hospital acknowledged the problem publicly.
Matt Casey, a Philadelphia-based lawyer representing Abel's parents, along with another family who lost one of their twins, said Geisinger, which run medical sites across Pennsylvania, was negligent in addressing the problem once warning signs emerged.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and I've seen a lot, and I have not seen conduct like this from a medical provider," Casey said.
Casey added that Geisinger should not have led families like the Cepedas to believe its Danville NICU was safe.
The bacteria called pseudomonas, which can cause pneumonia, diarrhea and other symptoms, and can be deadly to those with compromised immune systems, was traced to donor breast milk measuring equipment, the hospital said Friday.
DNA testing confirmed the source, the hospital added.
"Resistant strains of the germ can ... spread in healthcare settings from one person to another through contaminated hands, equipment, or surfaces," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about the bacteria.
Geisinger officials said the hospital system changed to single-use equipment in late September.
"We would like to extend our sincere apologies to the families who have been affected by this incident," Geisinger Vice President and Chief Medical Officer J. Edward Hartle said in a statement. The company is "committed to doing all that we can to support [them]."
Matthew Van Stone, a hospital spokesman, said the hospital took "several proactive measures" including moving to single-use, sterilized measurement before the staff knew the infection's source.
Van Stone added that the hospital notified the Pennsylvania Department of Health about the first baby's death in August and the next month the hospital disclosed to the same department that another baby had been exposed to pseudomonas, but not infected by it, in July.
The hospital would not comment on ongoing litigation, Van Stone said.
The hospital has been sending mothers expected to deliver premature babies to other hospitals since Oct. 7, when Van Stone publicly announced the three deaths after eight became ill. Hospital officials said Geisinger will continue to send premature babies elsewhere until it's deemed appropriate to resume care.
Geisinger officials added that breast milk alone is not dangerous and is still the best nutrition all babies, including premature babies, could have.