California Hospitals Fined $700,000 for Horrific Injuries and Preventable Deaths Must Be Audited Says Consumer Watchdog

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SANTA MONICA, CA: The nonprofit Consumer Watchdog called upon Governor Jerry Brown and government regulators to audit ten hospitals that the California Department of Public Health issued $700,000 in fines for adverse events that caused serious injury or death to patients. The fines, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 per hospital, are not large enough to place financial pressure on hospitals to improve patient safety, said Consumer Watchdog.

Of the ten hospitals in the Department of Public Health announcement, six have had multiple violations including Southwest Healthcare (13), UCSF Medical Center (9), UC San Diego Medical Center (6), John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital (6), Loma Linda Medical Center (3), and Mark Twain Medical Center (2).

An audit would uncover whether hospitals are honestly reporting when adverse events occur, and reveal what, if any, steps hospitals have taken to prevent these 'never events' from happening, said the consumer group.

Read the Department of Public Health release here:

A $100,000 fine against UC San Diego Medical Center was its sixth fine in seven years. In 2013, dressed only in a gown and a neck collar, Chula Vista resident Thomas Vera walked undetected out of the hospital. Vera was later found dead in a wooded canyon. A state investigation found that the hospital's security response was too slow, delayed by a broken panic button. The investigation also found that the hospital had no written procedure regarding how security would be contacted in an emergency.

"These incidents are called 'never events' for a reason – they are easily prevented and should never happen," said Michael Kapp with Consumer Watchdog. "When it comes to patient safety, far too many hospitals are repeat offenders. Southwest Healthcare in Riverside County was fined $100,000 – the maximum – after a patient died when doctors failed to administer needed drugs fast enough. This was Southwest Healthcare's 13th fine since 2007, and its third fine in the last eight months. Clearly slap on the wrist fines aren't doing enough to protect patients."

Rideout Memorial Hospital in Yuba County was fined $50,000 for an incident in which an 83-year-old patient with heart failure and kidney disease was given a dose of 25mg of methadone – ten times higher than the 2.5mg that was intended; the patient soon became unresponsive and died. Loma Linda University Medical Center in San Bernardino County was fined $50,000 for its third offense: a doctor accidentally inserted a feeding tube for a pneumonia patient into a lung, causing respiratory distress which led to the patient's death.

"Patients are falling victim to dangerous conditions and preventable medical errors, and California's elected officials and regulatory agencies haven't stepped up to fix the problem," said Kapp. "Hospitals cannot be trusted to police themselves, and these fines are more evidence that an immediate audit is needed."

Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to Governor Brown and government regulators calling for an audit here:

Consumer Watchdog has demanded an audit of hospitals for failures to report instances of patient harm, as well as greater disclosure and transparency. Currently, the Department of Public Health limits public data on adverse events to a single annual report that fails to include the name of the hospital where the adverse event occurred or any details about the incident. This annual report is separate from fines for "never events" that includes these important details.

California hospitals are required to report adverse events, like surgery on the wrong body part, surgical items left in patients or unexpected deaths, to the Department of Public Health. Late last year, the Department of Public Health reported only 6,282 adverse events in the last four fiscal years; some hospitals reported only a single adverse event in a year. However, it's estimated that 44,000 Californians die every year because of preventable medical error. Consumer Watchdog has noted the statistical impossibility of the low number of reported adverse events.

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