California watchdog group: Audit 'repeat offender' hospitals

California-based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog urged Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's office to audit 10 hospitals that the state Department of Health has fined $700,000 for adverse events leading to patient death or serious injury.

The fines range from $50,000 to $100,000 per hospital and, the group argued, are not stiff enough to motivate meaningful improvements in patient safety. Six of the 10 were fined for multiple violations, and UC San Diego Medical Center's $100,000 fine was its sixth fine in seven years, according to Consumer Watchdog.

The group cited an incident at Yuba County's Rideout Memorial Hospital in which an 83-year-old heart failure and kidney disease patient was accidentally given a dose of methadone 10 times higher than intended, causing the patient's death. Loma Linda University Medical Center in San Bernardino County incurred a $50,000 fine when a doctor accidentally inserted a feeding tube into a patient's lung, which led to the patient's death. This was the hospital's third offense.

"These incidents are called 'never events' for a reason--they are easily prevented and should never happen," said Michael Kapp with Consumer Watchdog. "When it comes to patient safety, far too many hospitals are repeat offenders. Southwest Healthcare in Riverside County was fined $100,000--the maximum--after a patient died when doctors failed to administer needed drugs fast enough. This was Southwest Healthcare's 13th fine since 2007, and its third fine in the last eight months. Clearly slap-on-the-wrist fines aren't doing enough to protect patients."

Last November, the group issued a similar call after a Bay Area NBC affiliate's investigation revealed that details on adverse events in the state's hospitals are not readily available. Consumer Watchdog called on Brown, California Health and Human Services Secretary Diane Dooley and Department of Public Health Director Ron Chapman, M.D., to audit all California hospitals' error-reporting procedures, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Consumer Watchdog announcement