Medical errors prove costly for 12 hospitals

Patients seeking medical care in California may want to avoid Southwest Healthcare System in Murrieta, which last Friday was fined for a state record seventh time by the California Department of Public Health, this time for leaving a surgical instrument inside a woman who delivered a baby at the facility in May 2008. Eleven other hospitals also were fined for medical errors. 

According to the CDHP's report of Southwest, a malleable retractor--a flexible metal device roughly 10 inches long and 2 inches wide used to hold back tissue during surgery--was left inside the unidentified patient. Only after the patient began complaining of abdominal pain and an exploratory surgery was performed a day later did doctors realize their mistake. 

Interviews with the peri operative director and the operating room manager at the time said one of the reasons for the mishap may have been that the two doctors working together were not familiar with each other. The hospital was fined $25,000 for the incident.

Other facilities in hot water included: 

  • USC University Hospital in Los Angeles, which was fined $50,000 because pharmacists and other staff gave a patient suffering from cystic fibrosis five overdoses of her medication, which ultimately led to kidney failure and seizures.
  • Orange County's Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, which was fined $75,000 after more than 1,600 newborns were given shots for hepatitis B from April through November 2009 with vaccines that had been frozen rather than refrigerated at room temperature, as was required. The vaccines, as a result, were useless.
  • San Diego's Palomar Medical Center, which was fined $50,000 after an intensive care patient who fell out of bed last December suffered cardiac arrest and eventually died. 

For more information about these and other fines:
- here's the CDPH's full list
- read this Associated Press piece
- check out this Los Angeles Times article