Ten California hospitals received fines Thursday for errors that resulted in either serious injury or death to a patient.
The California Department of Public Health issued a total of $785,000 in penalties for errors that include removing the wrong kidney, leaving surgical objects behind and failing to call for assistance when a patient began bleeding excessively.
The civil fines, ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, were issued to hospitals throughout the state for errors that occurred in 2010 and 2011. Two facilities in Los Angeles County and two in Orange County were among those fined.
Hospitals are required to report certain errors to the state. The goal of issuing the penalties and making them public is to reduce surgical and medication mistakes, said Debby Rogers, deputy director of the department's Center for Healthcare Quality.
"The value of the fines is bringing awareness both to the healthcare industry and healthcare providers but also to consumers," she said in a call to reporters.
Four of the hospitals fined were Kaiser facilities. At Kaiser's South Bay Medical Center, a patient died after mistakenly being given a blood thinner instead of medication to stop bleeding in the digestive tract. The state fined the facility $50,000.
At Kaiser's Oakland Medical Center, a 29-year-old woman died during a laser surgery to remove a congenital birth defect from her upper lip. The state fined the hospital $100,000.
An official with Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan in Northern California said in a statement that she deeply regretted what occurred at its Oakland facility. "This should never have happened and we have taken steps to prevent it from happening again," said Barbara Crawford, vice president of quality and regulatory services.
Kaiser's Southern California office also submitted a statement saying that patient safety is "paramount" and that the facility took the errors very seriously and put in additional safeguards to prevent future problems.
A few of the penalties were due to surgical items being left behind in patients during operations. At Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia, surgeons left in a sponge when doing a gallbladder surgery and had to do another operation to remove it. The fine was $50,000.
Hospital spokesman Rick Miller said it was a "one-time" incident. "Since that time, we revamped our policies and procedures," he said. "There have been no other cases like this."
One facility, UC San Francisco Medical Center, received its sixth fine since 2007. In 2010, a nurse practitioner prescribed a cancer patient a medication that she was allergic to, resulting in her spending time in the intensive care unit and a skilled nursing facility.
The fact that the hospital has had so many fines is "obviously concerning to us," Rogers said.
After the error, the medical center re-trained staff on procedures regarding allergies and evaluated the nurse practitioner workload. The hospital also now has a comprehensive electronic health records system that makes it easier to access patient information, said Josh Adler, chief medical officer of UCSF Medical Center.
Rogers said the state recently proposed regulations that would raise the amount of penalties, making the initial fine $75,000, the second $100,000 and the third $125,000. The regulations also would allow the state to issue fines for errors that do not rise to the level of "immediate jeopardy" to patient health and safety.
The two Orange County hospitals that were fined were Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo and Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley.
Since 2007, the state has fined 141 hospitals a total of $9.6 million in penalties. The state has collected $7.5 million of that amount.