YORK, Pa. — Twelve patients and nine of their spouses have filed a civil lawsuit against WellSpan for its alleged role in exposing them to a potentially deadly bacteria during open-heart surgeries, according to the York Dispatch.

WellSpan first announced in October 2015 that it had discovered a link between medical devices it uses at York Hospital during open-heart surgeries and rare bacterial infections that have since been identified in 12 of its patients, six of whom have died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have each issued alerts warning health-care providers nationwide about the connection between heater-cooler devices and nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM, infections.

Since WellSpan’s announcement, five lawsuits have been filed against health-care provider by or on behalf of York Hospital patients claiming the infection. Those suits all include LivaNova, the manufacturer of the device, as a defendant.

Local attorney Donald Reihart is representing the 12 patients, who have not been diagnosed with the infection, and their spouses in the recent lawsuit.

Reihart said WellSpan failed in their responsibility of “patient safety supervision,” a phrase he emphasizes throughout the 94-page complaint filed in the York County Court of Common Pleas.

The risk comes from unfiltered water traveling from the device’s vents through the air and into the patient during operations.

Reihart said the knowledge that water can travel through a vent and carry airborne bacteria has been well known for some time, pointing to several cases of Legionnaires’ disease being connected to similar circumstances.

Beyond that, the complaint points out that WellSpan admitted it didn’t completely follow disinfection protocols distributed by the device’s manufacturer.

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