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Manicures for hospital staff never 'on the scale of a beauty salon,' officials say [Updated]

May 18, 2010 |  6:00 am

Oliveview In a written response to allegations of substandard care and other violations at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit, Los Angeles County health officials said they found "little about the allegations" to be correct, according to a copy of the response reviewed by The Times.

Health officials were required to respond by Monday to two anonymous complaints filed earlier this month with the Joint Commission, a private, nonprofit agency that accredits the county-run hospital in Sylmar. A spokesman for the Department of Health Services and county counsel declined to release or discuss the response, citing medical privacy.

But in a copy of the response reviewed by The Times, county health officials said seven of 11 allegations contained in anonymous complaints could not be substantiated.

Officials said that although their investigation found that hospital staff provided and received cosmetic services at Olive View, they refuted many of the specific circumstances cited in the complaints.

“Free nail and eyebrow services were being provided and poor judgment was displayed," the report said.

“Allegations of a wax warmer pot, waxing services of any kind, manicuring on the high frequency ventilator and or the smell of acetone permeating the back of the NICU are unsubstantiated," the report said. "The investigation has dispelled the claim that an organized cosmetic operation on the scale of a ‘beauty salon’ has existed in the NICU.”

Hospital officials already had placed two staff on leave for providing manicures and other cosmetic services in the ward for high-risk newborns.

County investigators questioned 80 Olive View workers and found 16 had received nail or eyebrow services from a fellow staff member who admitted responsibility and was placed on leave, according to the response. A previous county report said that 11 of 15 day shift workers in the NICU were among those getting services.

Officials said that staff received the services free, during their breaks and almost always in rooms adjoining the neonatal intensive care unit, so they posed no threat to newborns. Cosmetic services took place in an unoccupied suite in the NICU only twice, according to the report.

Since a warning was issued to NICU staff not to participate in such activities, Olive View's infection control staff has not uncovered any recurrences during random checks, according to the response.

Officials also found that Dr. Richard Findlay, the unit’s director and the only board certified neonatologist, had failed to respond when paged, as alleged in the complaint.

But the report called the allegation “completely without merit” because Findlay told them it was a “one-time incident” that occurred because unit staff did not have his contact number when he became director in November 2009, according to the response. Findlay responded promptly to calls and pages from investigators May 3 and 6, officials wrote.

Officials also confirmed the allegation that NICU staff dropped a baby from a scale and made other errors involving medications and burns that resulted in temporary harm to babies, according to the response. But they rejected allegations that doctors and nurses were not trained or equipped to treat critically ill babies, concluding that the unit has “adequate staffing” and “is appropriately providing care to its neonatal population.”

Olive View’s chief executive, Carolyn Rhee, had previously denied most of the allegations and defended their staffing.

Monday’s response, which was sent to Los Angeles County supervisors and  William T Fujioka, the county's chief executive, will be considered Tuesday during a closed session at the Board of Supervisors regularly scheduled meeting, county staff said.

Olive View and county health officials also have struggled to explain why the hospital did not know about about a November 2008 downgrade of the NICU from mid- to low-level status after state officials found what they called a "critical medical staffing deficiency" and required that critically ill babies be transferred to higher-rated hospitals.

Hospital and county officials have said they believed the downgrade took place this January and did not preclude them from caring for some of the sickest infants. 

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times