California Fines 18 Hospitals for Care Problems

August 20, 2008

Eighteen hospitals in California were fined for state health code violations, including leaving surgical instruments inside patients and causing the death of one patient by improperly inserting an intravenous catheter.

The fines follow investigations from the California Department of Public Health that found several instances in which shoddy care either killed or endangered people. The hospitals were each fined $25,000 — the latest of dozens of penalties the state 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, 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.”

The report found some patients experienced surgical awareness during their procedures due to improper anesthesia. In other cases, patients had surgical instruments or sponges left inside their bodies during surgery, requiring a second surgery to retrieve the misplaced items.

In the case of the catheter, the report found that despite a lack of specialized training, a registered nurse inserted a tube into a patient’s neck vein on Sept. 1 at Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo. The patient died as a result of an air bubble that was introduced through the catheter.

Defending himself in the report, the unidentified male nurse told investigators, “I am the pro of the hospital. The other nurses call me to put in IVs that they cannot get in.”

The report found that he had not completed a required anatomy class or the hospital’s training on protocol.

A message seeking comment from Doctor’s Medical Center was not returned.

The state also cited Palomar Pomerado Health System in Poway, saying that “the hospital failed to maintain its anesthesia equipment in proper functioning order. As a result, three patients experienced surgical awareness during surgical procedures.”

A message seeking comment from Palomar Pomerado was not returned.

The state has issued 61 such penalties to 42 hospitals, Billingsley said.

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