Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lung patient sues for clean oxygen

Firm says it's never had other complaints
Littleton - Norman "Jack" Newell, 75, who is battling chronic lung disease, has spent a decade trying to get clean breathing oxygen, according to a suit he and his former wife filed in Jefferson County District Court this month.

Jack and Linda Newell allege that Apria Healthcare Group Inc., a supplier of home oxygen breathing equipment, has delivered equipment visibly contaminated with mold and insect parts.

That, the Newells contend, led to additional lung infections and required several trips to hospitals for Jack Newell.

"His immune system can't fight anything off anymore," Linda Newell said. "People expect their medical equipment to be clean, safe and healthy, and it's not."

Apria Healthcare officials said in a statement that they have repeatedly offered the Newells an opportunity to use another supplier of home oxygen, and the couple has refused.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected Apria's Littleton facility in 2005 and issued no citations, said Lisa Getson, executive vice president of Apria at the company's Lake Forest, Calif., office.

The FDA also inspected the site in 2001 and did find problems, according to a report.

"The facility was not maintained in a clean and sanitary condition," the 2001 FDA inspection document concluded.

The problems noted include:

No tracking mechanism to ensure preventive maintenance was done in accord with company or manufacturer recommendations.

Dirt coating two of 37 oxygen units.

Dirty and torn fiberglass ceiling insulation hanging down over storage areas.

Company staff could not determine if one randomly chosen oxygen unit had been cleaned between patients, the inspectors noted.

The staff claimed they received only one complaint in the previous year, but it "was not the complaint that prompted this inspection," according to the report.

Apria's Getson said only the Newells have complained about the cleanliness of her company's oxygen delivery systems.

"In the 10 years these patients have used our service, Apria has cared for at least 1 million other oxygen patients across the United States, and we have not had any complaints," Getson said.

The company is certified for 18 years by the Joint Commission, a company that evaluates health organizations, Getson said.

Still, Linda Newell said inspections aren't catching problems.

Nine 3-foot-tall oxygen tanks stand to the side of Jack Newell's bed, in the wood-paneled room in which he has spent the past six months.

Linda Newell cleans the oxygen containers with bleach mixtures and sends water condensation bottles through her dishwasher on a sanitize cycle.

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