California hospitals fined for endangering patient safety

Marking the highest number of local medical centers involved in any round of "immediate jeopardy" penalties since its program started in 2007, the California Department of Public Health has issued penalties to nine of the state's hospitals totaling $550,000, the department reports.

In 2009, the CDPH's original $25,000 penalty was raised to $50,000 for the first violation, $75,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third or subsequent violation at the same hospital. Out of the nine hospitals cited this week, two, Alameda County Medical Center and Scripps Green Hospital, reached the $75,000 mark. Alameda received its second administrative penalty to implement its established policies and procedures for the safe distribution and administration of medication, while Scripps paid its third and fourth fines, respectively, for failing to follow its surgical policies and procedures and its surgical policies and procedures for equipment cleaning.

First offenders included Pomerado Hospital in San Diego County, where a patient died after nursing staff failed to follow standard procedures for handling a demented and disabled patient who became injured when his chair fell backward. The deficiencies included not having an alarm system for the patient to use and not notifying a doctor about the fall, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. In the Bay Area, Marin General received a $50,000 fine after surgical staff left a sponge inside a woman following a cesarean section. The sponge was successfully removed, and disciplinary action was taken against the nurse and technician who failed to follow proper procedures.

Hospitals are required to provide the state a written plan outlining how they intend to prevent such errors in the future. They may also appeal penalties by requesting a hearing within 10 calendar days of notification. Since 2007 the state has issued 156 administrative penalties to 108 California hospitals. So far, $4.8 million in penalties have been assessed and $2.9 million have been collected.

To learn more:
- read this San Diego Union-Tribune article
- read this San Francisco Chronicle piece
- check out this Los Angeles Times article
- here's the CDHP's full list of violators