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California hospitals fined for errors

Of 11 facilities cited by the state, about half were penalized for leaving objects in patients after surgery.

September 25, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Eleven California hospitals were fined $25,000 each in administrative penalties Thursday for violations that, in some cases, led to death or serious injury, according to Department of Public Health officials.

Most of the hospitals fined were in Southern California, and about half were cited because doctors or hospital staff had left foreign objects in patients after surgery. Coast Plaza Doctors Hospital in Norwalk and Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center were fined for failing to follow proper surgical procedures.

At County-USC, surgeons had to operate a second time to remove a surgical sponge left inside a gunshot victim in June 2008. The hospital has been fined two other times in the last two years, including a citation earlier this month for leaving surgical sponges and towels behind during surgery on another gunshot victim. County-USC doctors and staff perform about 1,000 surgeries a month, including a quarter of the county's trauma cases, said chief executive Pete Delgado.

Coast Plaza was fined after staff left two surgical clamps in a patient during surgery in December 2008 and had to operate again to remove them.

Of 115 penalties issued to 80 hospitals since the penalties became law two years ago, 21% were related to foreign objects left behind during surgery, the second-leading violation, according to Ralph Montano, a health department spokesman. About 36% of fines are due to medication or pharmacy errors, Montano said.

Other hospitals fined included Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, where staff failed to follow surgical procedures in December 2008 and a fire erupted during eyelid surgery, burning a patient's face.

USC University Hospital was fined after mixing up two patients' test results, mistakenly telling a patient with a broken leg that he had cancer in August 2007 and unnecessarily amputating his leg. The hospital was also fined $30,300 for failing to report the incident, but hospital officials have appealed that fine, state records show.

Tenet Health Corp. sold the hospital to the university in April, and state officials emphasized that the fine was against Tenet, not the university. A Tenet spokesman said they may appeal the penalty.

Other local hospitals fined Thursday included Kindred Hospital in Ontario; Loma Linda University Medical Center; Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and Tri-City Hospital District in Oceanside.

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molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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