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California hospitals paying big fines for failing to report errors

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

Failure to report leaving foreign objects in patients or operating on the wrong person or body part, among other preventable medical errors in hospitals, cost the lives of approximately 10,000 Californians each year. 

In 2006, however, with the intent to improve care through increased hospital scrutiny, hospitals became subject to fines of a $100 per day for failing to report these and similar incidents.

According to an April 12 article published in California Watch, the California Department of Public health revealed that between July 2001 and November 2009, the state issued more than 260 fines.  Among these incidences, the most serious were:

    •  Surgery on the wrong patient – three hospitals

    •  Surgery on the wrong body part – four hospitals

    •  Sexual assault reported on a patient – three hospitals

    •  Death of a newly born baby and two babies within 24-hours of surgery – one hospital

The most common fines were issued for not reporting bed sores post a patient’s admission in the hospital.  The second most common fine was for leaving a foreign object in patient after surgery.

The following day, the California Department Public Health made public seven California hospitals' fines for causing (or would likely cause) serious patient injury or death.  These fines were for actions ranging from not following hospital surgical procedures, to not following procedures in the care of a newborn, to failure to maintain respiratory equipment.  

Those hospitals include:  California Pacific Medical Center – Pacific Campus Hospital, San Francisco; Kaiser Foundation Hospital, San Bernardino County (two fines); Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego County; Southwest Healthcare System, Riverside County (three fines); St. Bernardine Medical Center, San Bernardino County; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Orange County; and Sutter Dave Hospital, Yolo County. 

Fines ran between $25,000 and $100,000.

Fining a hospital for failure to care properly for their patients is a good short-term solution to make sure hospitals are held accountable.  However, it would seem more appropriate to uncover the root of the problem, particularly because the health care system is so tapped-out and medical costs run so high. 

Does the hospital have enough doctors and nurses on staff at all times?  Does the hospital carry the necessary equipment to care for its patients?  How much time is devoted to patient care as compared to paper work? 

These are just some of the questions that need answering if we are going determine how to ensure hospitals have the resources they need to care for their patients as opposed to paying steep fines for inadequate care.

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