Hospital workers sue over excessive radiation exposure

(WBIR - Anderson County) Five current and former employees of Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge have filed lawsuits claiming they were exposed to excessive radiation due to inadequate construction at the hospital.

The plaintiffs are employees who conducted CT Scans in the portion of the hospital that was built in 2005 and opened in 2006.

Attorney John Agee of Clinton filed the lawsuits and says the story begins with CT Scan that were cloudy. He says that led to the clear realization in December that radiation was coming through the scan room walls and damaging the completed scans in the control room where employees were located.

"Those walls, they are supposed to be shielded with lead to protect against radiation. There was no protective lead barrier in the wall like there was supposed to be," said Agee. "These workers, for approximately seven and a half years were exposed to unnecessary radiation because of the absence of a lead barrier wall. I think it's a combination of shock and anger. There were warning signs to management that there was a problem."

Agee says whenever a scan was conducted on a patient, the workers also received a scattered dose of radiation. That includes two female employees who were pregnant when they were exposed to radiation.

"And it's cumulative over time, which means that any additional dose that a person gets increases the risk of health effects," said Agee. "As for pregnancy, the fetus can be especially sensitive to radiation exposure."

The Centers for Disease Control acknowledges some health risks from ionizing radiation, in the context of patients who receive scans. The CDC website states, "The risk of harm from exposure to radiation from diagnostic procedures is, for the most part, small. However, exposures to ionizing radiation should be only as long as is necessary to perform the test."

"The employees who worked in that environment were being continuously exposed to radiation," said Agee. "I think clearly they were getting unnecessary radiation."

The lawsuits were filed against Covenant Health of Knoxville, the operator of Methodist Medical Center. The complaints also name Rentenbach Constructors Inc. of Knoxville and TEG Architects LLC in Indiana as defendants, the construction and design companies responsible for building the portion of the hospital that includes the CT Scan room.

Methodist Medical Center's spokeswoman, Crystal D. Jordan, issued a written statement that says the hospital places the highest priority on employee and public safety.

"We maintain an active and ongoing radiation quality and compliance program with specific procedures to monitor safety. Based on the results of this program, it has been verified that we have met all safety standards for radiation exposure. We intend to refute these accusations," wrote Jordan.

"If they [the hospital management] are concerned about the destruction or poor quality of the CT scans based on radiation exposure, why would they not be concerned about the exposure to the human person? These are good people who work hard and feel like management was not taking their concerns seriously, so now it has come to this."

Agee said his clients are seeking compensation to pay for long-term medical screenings for health problems associated with radiation exposure. The complaints also seek punitive damages, but do not state a specific amount.

While five lawsuits have already been filed, that number could soon grow. Right now there is a group of "approximately 30 current and former employees" who are contemplating their legal options, according to Agee.


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