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State fines 12 hospitals for serious errors; eight are in Southern California [Updated]

November 12, 2010 | 12:58 pm

State officials have fined 12 California hospitals for medical errors that in some cases killed or seriously injured patients, according to a report made public Friday.

California Department of Public Health officials have also required hospital officials -- who may appeal the fines -- to submit plans to correct the problems.

Eight Southern California hospitals face penalties, including two in Los Angeles County.

USC University Hospital was fined $50,000 after pharmacists and staff gave a female patient with cystic fibrosis an overdose of medication in February, causing kidney failure and seizures. The hospital has since retrained nurses to verify prescription orders, created a new pilot program to ensure medications are administered correctly and started randomly auditing medication orders, according to a plan of correction submitted to the state. It was the first time the hospital had been fined.

Citrus Valley Medical Center was fined $25,000 after a small metal surgical sealing device was left inside an 80-year-old woman during heart surgery. The woman needed a second surgery to have the device removed, according to a state investigator’s report. Hospital officials notified the device's manufacturer, who replaced it with an upgraded model and retrained staff on how to use it, according to the hospital's plan of correction. It was the first time the hospital had been fined.

Southwest Healthcare System in Murrieta received its seventh fine, $25,000, after investigators found surgeons left a retractor in a 22-year-old woman during surgery after she delivered a baby at the hospital in May 2008. The woman had to undergo additional surgery to remove the retractor, according to the investigator's report.

Southwest has received more fines than any other hospital in the state. In April, it received three fines, including the largest ever issued, $100,000, after investigators determined that doctors performed caesarean sections using electrical cauterizing instruments in a delivery room with dangerously low humidity, which could have sparked a fire. A day later, federal officials said they planned to cut the hospital's Medicare funding, but they eventually reached a settlement agreement that required the hospital to make improvements.

The latest fine will not jeopardize that settlement agreement, state regulators said Friday.

"The hospital can still continue to operate. We're working with the facility on the settlement agreement, and we will continue to do so," said Pamela Dickfoss, assistant deputy director of the department's Center for Healthcare Quality.

The state also issued fines Friday to three hospitals in Orange County.

Western Medical Center-Santa Ana was fined $75,000, its third fine, after state inspectors found staff had vaccinated 1,636 newborns against hepatitis B, including some born to mothers who tested positive for the disease, using vaccines that had potentially been rendered ineffective. An investigator found hospital pharmacists had stored the vaccines at temperatures below freezing, against manufacturers' recommendations. After the investigator's discovery, the hospital notified the babies' parents by mail that the vaccines the infants had received were potentially ineffective, according to the investigator's report.

Kindred Hospital Westminster was fined $25,000 after an obese patient developed 11 bedsores and lost 63 pounds within four months of being admitted in April 2008.

Placentia-Linda Hospital was fined $25,000 after surgeons replacing a patient's left knee in February 2008 used a part designed for the right knee.

[Updated at 1:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect fine amount assessed against Placentia-Linda Hospital, as provided by state officials. The facility was fined $25,000 for the error, not $50,000.]

  The patient returned to the hospital five months later complaining of knee pain and had to undergo a second surgery to fix the knee, according to the state investigator's report.

Two hospitals were fined in San Diego County: Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, which was fined $50,000, and Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, which was fined $50,000.

In Northern California, the state issued two fines to UCSF Medical Center for a total of $50,000; two fines to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco for a total of $125,000; a $25,000 fine to Hanford Community Medical Center in Hanford and a $50,000 fine to Petaluma Valley Hospital.

The state has issued 170 fines since they were first required by law in January 2007, Dickfoss said. In all, 112 hospitals have been fined and the state has collected $3.65 million. Of those fined, 39 have been appealed, Dickfoss said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske