3 O.C. hospitals fined for patient safety

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Personal Injury News

Article Date: 1/27/2010 | Resource: MLG

3 O.C. hospitals fined for patient safety

Three Orange County hospitals have been fined $50,000 apiece for medical errors that caused patients serious injury or death, the state Department of Public Health announced Wednesday.

The hospitals are Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. They were among 13 across the state that received the latest round of penalties.

The state’s investigative reports give the following account of what happened:

Western Medical Center: Last March, a woman underwent an emergency Caesarean section and hysterectomy. Over the next few days, the patient experienced an elevated white blood count, pain and fever. A CT scan revealed that a sponge had been left in her lower pelvis. The woman had to undergo another surgery to remove the sponge. The fine is the hospital’s second penalty. The other fine resulted after the hospital failed to properly investigate an allegation of physical abuse against a psychiatric patient.

The hospital released a statement saying Western Med takes the allegations very seriously and had no further comment.

St. Jude: Last February, a man was admitted to the emergency room with chest pain. He had suffered a heart attack and was placed on a cardiac monitoring device. The alarm volume was inaudible and a paper roll, which would have provided a visual reading of heartbeat, was pulled out. The patient developed a lethal heart rhythm that went undetected and he died. The fine is the hospital’s second. St. Jude was previously fined for leaving a surgical drape inside a patient’s body during a hysterectomy.

St. Jude issued a statement saying it was sorry for the family’s devastating loss and that engineering controls now ensure that monitors are loud enough.

Hoag: The Register reported Hoag’s fine after the hospital notified staff last week. Last January, a MRI patient was wheeled into the exam room on a metal gurney. The machine’s magnet pulled the gurney into the machine, crushing her foot and leg. The patient spent three days in the hospital. The fine was Hoag’s third. The others were for improper monitoring of a heart patient who died and a sponge left in a patient’s body during surgery.

Chief executive Dr. Richard Afable issued a memo to employees saying, “We have strengthened our system due to this event and feel strongly that we can prevent anything similar from happening again.”

The three hospitals submitted reports to the state indicating how the problems were corrected. Those steps ranged from re-training staff to creating new safety policies.

Kathleen Billingsley, deputy director of the state’s Center for Health Care Quality, said $2.3 million in fines has been collected since 2007. The funds are used to improve hospital quality and safety. Billingsley said because of the high rate of surgical equipment left inside patients, the governor’s proposed budget includes spending $800,000 in fine money to start a statewide program to reduce those mistakes.

According to the Joint Commission, a national hospital accreditation body, “foreign objects” left inside a patient after surgery are the second most common “adverse” event. Seventy-eight such incidents were reported nationwide in 2007.

“We’re conducting an analysis to look at the number and types of foreign objects that are left behind,” Billingsley said. “We’re looking at best practices so we can make sure that type of information is available and can be used by hospitals.”

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Jeffrey Marquart