California hospitals fined for killing, injuring patients

File photo: Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center
File photo: Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center
Michael Smith/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

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State health regulators fined a dozen California hospitals Wednesday for medical mistakes that injured or killed patients. Three of the hospitals are in Los Angeles County; one is in Riverside. Each faces $50,000 fines.

"We believe that these penalties raise the awareness in the health care industry," said Pam Dickfloss. Dickfloss works for the state's Center for Health Care Quality, the agency that issues the penalties.

Many of the fines were the result of patients having objects, like sponges and surgical instruments, left inside of them after an operation. Others were for wrongly administered medications.

Regulators fined California Riverside Community Hospital because its surgical staff left a metal clamp inside a patient's stomach.

Torrance Memorial Medical Center staff left a bottle of lens defogging fluid inside a patient during an operation to remove a kidney.

At Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, a man died from injuries after he fell out of his wheelchair, regulators say. This was the hospital's second administrative penalty.

L.A. County-USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights was fined for the fourth time. A burn patient there scheduled for a skin graft sustained neurological damage after an unsupervised nurse-administered anesthesia.

"It's got the attention of the hospitals," Dickfloss said. "They're incorporating best practices. They're sharing information with other hospitals and so we have every expectation that these are going to decrease over time."

Fines were also issued to facilities in counties including Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and others.

Dickfloss said the center's data indicate that confirmed hospital errors have declined by about 12 percent in the last four years.

California Department of Public Health spokesman Al Lundeen says the hospitals have 10 days to appeal the fines.