CLEVELAND -- University Hospitals on Thursday reached out to patients whose eggs and embryos have been lost to a storage tank malfunction, offering apologies but no reason for the mishap.
Amber and Elliott Ash have one son, Ethan, thanks to IVF treatments. Back in 2014, they stored two embryos in hopes of give Ethan a biological sibling, but were one of hundreds of families affected by the storage tank breakdown.
They said after two weeks of waiting for answers, the apology letter was not enough.
“I found it frustrating because I'm looking for answers at this point. I think we both are, like so many families across Northeast Ohio, and this didn't provide any more insight into what occurred,” said Amber Ash.
In a letter to patients obtained by WKYC.com, Dr. Daniel Simon, the hospital’s chief academic officer, apologizes again to patients and tells them the investigation into the storage tank breakdown is ongoing.
“We understand there are questions about why this is taking so long. We are still completing the root cause analysis,” Simon wrote.
Robert DiCello, a Mentor attorney representing several patients who lost eggs and embryos following the tank's temperature drop, said the letter is a "blatant violation" of a court order that restricts UH from contacting patients for issues unrelated to health care.
He said the letter provides "sloppy excuses" but no answers.
"Haven't these families been through enough? It's just inappropriate of UH to wage a PR campaign like this," he said.
During the weekend of March 3 and March 4, a breakdown inside a storage tank at the University Hospitals Fertility Clinic caused thousands of eggs and embryos, belonging to hundreds of patients, to be destroyed.
The tank used nitrogen to keep the eggs and embryos frozen for future implantation. A similar breakdown took place at a fertility center in San Francisco.
“We haven't been allowed to look at the tanks. We haven't been allowed in uh. We haven't had a chance to talk to the other entities that could be responsible,” said Ken Abbarno, Attorney at DiCello Levitt & Casey.
Since then, UH officials have fended off a flurry of lawsuits, tearful patients and negative public reaction.
Still, the cause of the breakdown that allowed the embryos and eggs to thaw is still unclear.
Simon said the investigation so far shows that it is unlikely the center was entered by unauthorized personnel. The hospital has also not found evidence that their computer system was hacked, he said.
However, because of the similar occurrence that weekend at a fertility clinic in San Francisco, computer interference has not been conclusively ruled out, he added.
The investigation is focusing on the storage tank and components, the alarm systems, physical and cyber security systems, liquid nitrogen issues and preventative maintenance, he said.
The hospital has now purchased new tanks with new alarm systems from a different supplier, he said.
"Our primary concerns remain: 1). protecting the embryos, 2). supporting our patients and 3). completing a thorough cause analysis," Simon wrote.
The letter said the hospital has responded to more than 900 calls and physicians have talked with about 400 patients.
Anyone needing to contact the center may call 216-286-9740.
The letter reminds patients that UH is offering affected women an in vitro package and a refund of storage fees. A signed release is not required.