California Fines Hospitals for Substandard CareAug 20, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP According to recent Associated Press reports, the state of California has fined four hospitals for problems that led to a total of five patient deaths. Fourteen other hospitals were also fined for patient care violations. A fine of $25,000 was levied for each violation, with some hospitals cited for two violations. Violations cited included such horrors as an improperly inserted catheter, a ventilator that was not turned on, and surgical tools that were left inside patients after operations.
The fines were made public earlier this week and resulted from investigations conducted by the California Department of Public Health. The hospitals were fined $25,000 for each violation, which represented the latest of dozens of penalties the state of California has issued in recent years to more than 40 hospitals. "The number of penalties will decrease and the quality of care will dramatically improve as hospitals take action to improve," said Kathleen Billingsley. Billingsley is director of the health department's Center for Healthcare Quality. "The entire intent of these fines is to improve the overall quality of care in California."
In addition to the other violations, the report detailed a death at a La Mesa hospital in which a worker failed to turn on a ventilator for a patient who was being transferred. A patient in Los Alamitos died after falling from a wheelchair because the seat belt was not engaged. A Santa Ana hospital lost a patient because of an error with a medication overdose. It was also found that at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, a registered nurse improperly inserted a catheter into a patient's neck vein on September 1. In that case, the patient died as a result of an air bubble that traveled from the catheter tube into the patient’s body. In addition to the death, the report also revealed that the registered nurse had not completed a required anatomy class, nor had the nurse completed the hospital's training on protocol.
Anaheim General Hospital was cited for failing to ensure that medical devices were electrically safe and functioning within manufacturer's guidelines, for not preventing access to dangerous items, for failing to protect patients from extreme environmental temperatures, and for failing to maintain the pharmacy's refrigerated temperatures where medications are kept. Scripps Green Hospital was cited for failing to ensure patient safety in the surgical department. A patient fell off an operating table during surgery. In other cases, patients had surgical instruments or sponges left inside their bodies during surgery. When this occurs, a second surgery is required in order to retrieve and remove such items. The report also found that some patients experienced surgical awareness during their procedures due to improper anesthesia administration.
The state of California has issued 61 such penalties to 42 hospitals, Billingsley said. Most of the 18 hospitals are in Southern California, said Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. All California hospitals are required to comply with state and federal laws to remain accredited. This disciplining marked the fourth time the department has disciplined hospitals since a state law went into effect last year authorizing the agency to fine hospitals for placing patients in serious jeopardy.