Discovery of mold at Sonoma West Medical Center halts surgeries

Mold spores, first discovered about a month ago under a hand-washing sink at Sonoma West Medical Center’s sterile processing area, has forced the financially strapped hospital to cancel surgeries until it completes proper remediation.

While the mold was not found in the operating rooms, the work to remove it affects the hospital’s ability to sterilize surgical instruments for operations. The discovery and loss of revenue is yet another financial blow to a hospital.

“It is a significant part of our revenue, but we want to do the repairs correctly and properly and we want to be sure that our patients have a safe clean environment to have the procedures done,” said John Peleuses, Sonoma West Medical Center’s interim CEO.

The mold was discovered May 24 during a routine environmental check conducted by the hospital’s facilities manager and the infection specialist. In the sterile processing area, the infection specialist noticed a musty smell.

They tracked the origin of the smell to a location under the sink and contacted a hygienist, who visited the hospital the following day to take samples, said Peleuses. The hygienist phoned the hospital May 26 and gave a verbal report: A pinhole leak in the sink’s P-trap had developed mold over time.

Peleuses said hospital staff then conducted a thorough cleaning and disinfection of the sterilization area and placed a barrier around the mold-affected area. No surgeries were conducted during the holiday weekend, he said.

The hygienist’s written report was not completed until May 30, when hospital officials contacted the California Department of Public Health.

But Peleuses said prescheduled surgeries were performed on May 31. He said the decision to conduct the surgeries was made after consulting with the surgeon. He said the surgeries used surgical packs of previously sterilized instruments stored in a different area. The operating area is in a different location than the sterile processing room.

The CDPH confirmed it is conducting an investigation at the medical center but would not comment on any details.

Peleuses said a team of three health facilities evaluator nurses from CDPH visited the hospital on May 31. Hospital officials, after consulting with the CDPH team, decided to cancel all future surgeries because the mold remediation would clearly affect future sterilization of instruments and surgeries going forward. Since that time, the surgery area at Sonoma West Medical Center has been unused.

The CDPH team spent two weeks at the hospital investigating the mold and conducting a “validation survey” for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The survey examines whether the hospital is meeting CMS requirements for its Medicare certification.

Aside from the infection prevention issue caused by the mold, Peleuses said CMS reported only three other deficiencies, though none related to patient care. Deficiencies were found in the way the hospital interacts with its governance body, emergency water storage and collection of data for quality improvement measures, Peleuses said.

Barbara Vogelsang, the medical center’s chief nursing officer, said the remediation process is extensive and requires an outside specialist.

Peleuses said the final written report from CDPH has not been received by the hospital, but he pointed out that other than the mold issue, the state investigators found no other problems related to patient care.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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