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California inspectors pay surprise visit to County-USC Medical Center after complaint about ER waits

May 13, 2010 |  4:11 pm

Photo: The new County-USC hospital, a state-of-the-art, $1.02-billion facility, opened in 2008. Credit: Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times

In a surprise visit Thursday, state inspectors arrived at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center to investigate allegations made this week that patients face excessively long emergency room waits – sometimes without any vital signs being taken – and that hospital workers fail to protect patient privacy.

“They arrived today and will be there tomorrow,  too,” said Michael Wilson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which runs the 600-bed hospital.

The California Department of Public Health confirmed that there was an active investigation at the county-run facility. Wilson said county officials will have no information about the inspectors' findings until Friday at the earliest.

The unannounced inspection came a day after the county confirmed that it was investigating allegations made by a healthcare professional who visited County-USC’s emergency room May 4 seeking treatment for abdominal pain.

In a complaint sent to government regulators and the county, the woman said she waited eight hours before deciding to seek treatment at another hospital. In that time, according to a copy of the complaint reviewed by The Times, no nurse took her vital signs, a practice she alleged put patients in danger.

She also said a nurse told her that the average wait was 35 hours.

Wilson had previously disputed the claim of 35-hour waits, saying the average time is less than nine hours and varies depending on the patient’s condition.

The woman who filed the complaint also wrote that she was “surprised to witness an institutional disregard for basic standards of care.”

She said patients’ names and symptoms, such as “John Doe, penile abscess,” and dates of birth were posted on monitors facing a waiting room.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: The new County-USC hospital, a state-of-the-art, $1.02-billion facility, opened in 2008. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times