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12 California hospitals fined for medical errors

September 7, 2011 |  1:34 pm

Photo: L.A. County-USC Medical Center. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times State public health officials have fined 12 California hospitals for medical errors that hurt or killed patients, according to a report released Wednesday.

Three of the hospitals -- L.A. County-USC Medical Center, Brotman Medical Center and Torrance Memorial Medical Center -- are in Los Angeles County.

The penalties were issued for errors such as leaving foreign objects in patient’s bodies during surgery and administrating the wrong medication. The fines, which hospitals can appeal, range from $50,000 to $75,000.

“Most of these are preventable medical errors,” said Ralph Montano, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. “Either someone was harmed or killed or likely to be harmed.”

Since 2007 the department has issued 198 penalties to 124 hospitals and had collected $4.6 million in fines. The money goes to a special fund for improving patient safety, said Pam Dickfoss, acting deputy director of the department’s Center for Health Care Quality. Dickfoss said state officials were working closely with hospitals to prevent errors from reoccurring.

“These penalties have raised awareness in the healthcare industry,” she said. “It is our expectation that these incidents will decrease over time.”

At LAC-USC Medical Center, state officials determined that a 48-year-old man undergoing surgery to treat severe burns suffered neurological damage after being administered anesthesia by an unsupervised nurse anesthetist. This was the fourth penalty issued to the hospital, according to the report.

Investigators also found that an 82-year-old patient fell at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City when trying to get out of his wheelchair. He suffered bleeding in his skull and later died. The hospital failed to follow proper procedures for preventing falls, the report said. The hospital had been fined once before.

At Torrance Memorial Medical Center, surgical staff left a bottle of lens defogging solution inside a patient during an operation to remove a kidney, according to the report. The bottle wasn’t discovered until the patient returned to the medical center for another operation.


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 Photo: L.A. County-USC Medical Center. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times