CLEVELAND -- University Hospitals CEO Tom Zenty issued a recorded statement Tuesday afternoon to address the failure that compromised thousands of eggs and embryo at the hospital's fertility center this month.
"My thoughts and heart immediately went out to our patients," Zenty said in a video statement posted to UH's Facebook page. "This was overwhelming news for them, women and men who counted on us."
On the weekend of March 3-4, the temperature rose inside a liquid nitrogen cryo tank storing thousands of eggs and embryo. That spike in temperature jeopardized the viability of all eggs and embryo inside the tank.
Zenty said the hospital focused on three priorities following the failure: preserve and protect the eggs and embryo, support the patients and identify the root causes of the situation.
On Monday, the hospital sent a letter to all affected patients to provide more details on what happened. That letter noted there were more affected eggs and embryo than first estimated and it’s unlikely any are still viable. UH first said about 2,000 eggs and embryo were compromised, impacting about 500 patients. The hospital now says that the number has doubled to 4,000 eggs and embryo, affecting nearly 1,000 patients.
The letter also says that human error is to blame for the failure, reporting that a remote alarm system on the tank had been shut off. That alarm would have alerted clinic staff to the change in temperature inside the tank.
The hospital says it's unknown who turned off the tank and that the tank involved needed "preventative maintenance." For several weeks prior to the tank failure, the hospital says it had difficulty with its liquid nitrogen automatic fill.
"We had been working with the tank manufacturer who had previously provided instructions on the necessary maintenance to 'thaw' the storage tank to correct this difficulty," the letter says. "To do that required transferring all specimens to an extra storage tank previously provided by the manufacturer. This process takes several weeks, and had begun when this event occurred, though no eggs or embryos had yet been moved to the extra tank."
Despite several lawsuits filed in recent weeks, the hospital is offering affected patients medical and psychological support.
"We failed our fertility clinic patients," Zenty said. "We are sorry. I am sorry, and we are going to do everything we can to regain our patients’ trust."
Read the letter sent to impacted patients in the document below. Zenty's full statement is below that.
Zenty's full statement
"I’m Tom Zenty, CEO of University Hospitals.
We had a terrible situation at our fertility clinic where eggs and embryos held in storage were jeopardized by a temperature fluctuation in one of our cryo-storage tanks.
My thoughts and heart immediately went out to our patients. This was overwhelming news for them: The women and men who counted on us, those who asked us to help them with their families and for everyone who is part of the UH family.
We immediately set out to address three priorities. One, preserve and protect the eggs and embryos. Two, support our patients, and three, identify the root causes of the situation. Since then, we’ve been working hard to figure out what happened and why.
We know we made mistakes. On March 26, we sent a letter to all of our patients affected by this loss. That letter includes detailed information about what we know at this moment. Those details include the fact that there were more eggs and embryos affected than first estimated, and it’s unlikely that any are viable. The remote alarm system on the tank was off, and there was a problem with the way we maintained the cryo-storage tank. We’ve already taken multiple steps, and we intend to take many more. We’ve offered our patients who had stored eggs or embryos with us medical and emotional support tailored to their individual needs. We’re refunding storage fees paid to date, and offering other services going forward, and we’re not asking our patients to sign a release to obtain these services.
We’re cooperating with the Ohio Department of Health, the College of American Pathologists and other organizations to assess and investigate the situation. We’ve also engaged outside experts to help us, and we plan to share those findings in order to develop best-practice standards with other fertility clinics to help ensure this doesn’t happen again to anyone.
As much as you want answers to this terrible situation, we do, too. We know many families want and need the fertility services we provide, and we’re committed to making the changes that will allow them to turn to us again with confidence.
I know that many of you are upset about what happened. We understand that our patients are grieving, and we grieve with them. Clearly, we can’t give back what was lost. We hope to help them recover some of that loss through the medical and emotional support services we have offered. I can’t say it any more plainly. We failed our fertility clinic patients. We are sorry. I am sorry, and we’re going to do everything we can to regain our patients’ trust."