By Ron Shinkman
Jan 3, 2013
The California Department of Public Health levied a dozen administrative penalties against 10 hospitals late last month for medical errors that either cost patients their lives or put them in grave danger.
The penalties, which were announced on Dec. 20, come as the agency is promulgating new regulations that would stiffen fines against hospitals for future serious medical errors.
Of the penalties recently announced, four involved patients who died.
Kaiser Permanente's facility in Oakland was fined $100,000 for a 2010 incident where a 29-year-old patient died from an embolism after a surgeon misused a laser instrument to remove a hemangioma, leading to the accidental insertion of helium into her bloodstream. It was the hospital's third administrative penalty.
Kaiser's facility in the Harbor City section of Los Angeles was fined $50,000 when a patient undergoing surgery to repair gastric bleeding was given a blood thinner rather than a coagulant, leading to his death. It was the hospital's first penalty.
Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia received two penalties that both involved the deaths of patients. In a 2010 incident, a patient died after nearly two hours of unchecked bleeding because the medical staff did not seek assistance in a timely manner. In the second, a diabetic patient died due to lack of proper monitoring of her glucose levels. They were the first and second penalties for the hospital, and totaled $125,000.
Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Orange County received its fifth and sixth penalties and fines totaling $200,000. Both penalties involved surgical errors: a sponge retained in a patient after a coronary bypass procedure, and an 85-year-old patient who had the section of her spinal column fused.
Altogether, the CDPH has issued 254 administrative penalties against 141 hospitals – about 40 percent of those facilities operating in California – since it was authorized under state law to do so in 2007. Out of the $9.6 million in fines it has issued, it has collected $7.51 million involving 206 cases.
More than two dozen penalties are being appealed, and only one to date has been heard by an administrative law judge. A case involving Kaiser's hospital in Fontana was scheduled to be heard last October, but has been rescheduled to March because of an illness involving one of the parties, according to one of the hospital's attorneys.
Regulations currently proposed would revamp the current system to assess penalties on a six-level scale, ranging from an incident where there was no patient harmed with no risk for harm to levels five and six, where the patient was in immediate jeopardy of harm and was injured, or died as a result of the harm. Fines would range from $25,000 for low-level penalties to $125,000 for a third and subsequent penalty levied to a hospital.
The public comment period on the new regulations closed on Dec. 10. Officials did not say when the regulations would be submitted to the Office of Administrative Law to be codified.
Other Hospitals Penalized
Kaiser Permanente San Diego – surgeons removed the wrong kidney from an 85-year-old patient. This is the hospital’s second penalty. $75,000 fine.
Kaiser Permanente San Rafael – Gauze left in a patient during a laparascopic procedure. This is the hospital’s first penalty. $50,000 fine.
Methodist Hospital of Southern California, Arcadia – Sponge left in patient after gallbladder surgery. This is the hospital’s first penalty. $50,000 fine.
Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, Fountain Valley – Sponge left in a patient during an abdominal surgery. This is the hospital’s first penalty. $50,000 fine.
Sutter Coast Hospital, Crescent City – a patient suffered a flash burn due to the misuse of cauterizing equipment. This is the hospital’s first penalty. The fine was reduced to $10,000 under a relief exemption for rural hospitals.
UCSF Medical Center – A nurse practitioner prescribed amoxicillin to a patient who was allergic, leading to her hospitalization. This is the hospital’s sixth penalty. $75,000 fine.