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L.A. County cites errors in complaint against hospital

A would-be patient alleged excessive wait times and other problems at County-USC Medical Center; health officials acknowledge a failure to protect patients' privacy.

May 15, 2010|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County health officials cited numerous inaccuracies in a complaint filed with regulators earlier this week that alleged emergency room patients at County- USC Medical Center faced excessive waits, among other issues.

At the same time, officials acknowledged at least one allegation is true: Hospital staff failed to protect patient privacy.

The in-depth response came Thursday as state regulators paid a surprise visit to the county-run hospital to investigate the complaint. The complaint was filed Tuesday by a healthcare professional who had sought care at the emergency room May 4 for abdominal pain.

The woman, who said in the complaint that her vital signs had not been checked, said she waited eight hours before leaving to get treatment at another hospital. She said a nurse told her the average wait time at County-USC's emergency room was 35 hours.

Carol Meyer, chief network officer with the county's Department of Health Services, said the average wait at County-USC was nine hours, not 35. She also said hospital records show the complainant had her vital signs checked within four minutes of arriving. Four hours into her visit, Meyer said, the woman's name flashed several times on a screen in the waiting room, but records show she never responded.

"We are not putting people in danger," Meyer said. "We believe we are providing excellent care."

The woman, contacted by The Times, said that she never saw her name flash and that when she asked, she was told by nurses that her turn had not come. She conceded that her vitals were checked shortly after she arrived but said she then waited nearly eight more hours with no additional care.

County-USC has seen a 15% increase in emergency room patients this year, Meyer said, largely because of the continued economic downturn.

Meyer said officials investigating the complaint found that emergency room staff had turned some computer terminals containing private patient information toward the waiting room, a potential privacy violation. She said the hospital is installing anti-glare computer screens on those terminals.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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