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Olive View-UCLA Medical Center put babies at risk, report says

October 12, 2010 |  8:17 am

Olive View-UCLA Medical Center put critically ill babies at risk when the county facility continued to care for the infants despite lacking the staff to do so, according to a report released this month by state investigators.

Investigators from the California Department of Public Health found that Olive View did not have enough neonatologists or staff to treat babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, according to the report released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services after a request for public records by The Times.

The state inquiry confirms what The Times first reported May 7: that in November 2008, the unit had been downgraded from "community" to "intermediate" status by state officials but continued to operate as though it had the higher designation. Hospital and county health officials later said they were unaware of the downgrade until The Times inquired about the change in status.

The downgrade, largely due to a lack of neonatologists -- doctors who specialize in the care of premature infants -- meant Olive View was required under state rules to transfer all babies on ventilators for more than four hours and those in need of surgery to better-equipped and -staffed hospitals, according to Norman Williams, a spokesman for the California Department of Health Services.

But Olive View officials continued to advertise the unit as being "community" level on the hospital website and to treat babies in need of transfer, according to the report. When investigators reviewed a sample of five out of 30 babies cared for at the unit as of June 2, they found all of them required higher-level care than Olive View could provide, despite a May 12 memo from the hospital's chief executive instructing the unit to provide "intermediate" level care.

Investigators found the unit had only one board-certified neonatologist, identified by county officials as Dr. Richard Findlay, insufficient to provide the required 24-hour coverage. Nursing staff did not know how to reach the on-call doctor in case of emergency and for more than two months before Findlay was hired late last year, the unit's interim director did not meet certification standards, investigators said.

"The cumulative effect of these systemic problems resulted in the hospital's inability to ensure the provision of quality healthcare in a safe environment," investigators wrote.

Read the full story here.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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