Tighter scrutiny for outpatient surgery centers

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Outpatient surgery centers in California that perform Lap-Band operations and other procedures will face new scrutiny under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The legislation requires private accrediting firms to inspect outpatient centers at least once every three years and allows for surprise inspections to ensure the centers meet safety standards for such things as cleanliness and proper use of medication.

It also requires accrediting firms to demand improvements or revoke certification if a surgery center does not meet the standards.

The author of the law, state Sen. Curren Price Jr. (D-Los Angeles), said he became interested in the safety of outpatient centers after singer Kanye West’s mother died in 2007 after liposuction and breast augmentation surgery at a Westside clinic.

“It brings oversight that’s long overdue over these clinics,” Price said Sunday after the governor signed the law. “It’s going to protect the public’s health and safety.”

Under the law, the state medical board must notify the public on its website if a center’s license has been suspended or if the facility has been placed on probation or reprimanded.

In addition, the law prohibits outpatient centers that run into trouble from shopping for accreditation among several firms that issue approvals. Previously, centers that lost accreditation from one agency because of safety violations could apply to another for approval.

Price’s legislation attracted broad attention because of the recent deaths of five patients after Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries at outpatient clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing company, according to lawsuits and coroner’s records.

Among the law’s proponents was Betty Brown, whose sister, Tamara Walter, died in December after Lap-Band surgery at an outpatient clinic in Beverly Hills. Walter was the third patient to die after Lap-Band surgery at the clinic.

A coroner’s report faulted the anesthesiologist who treated Walter during surgery. That physician, Daniel Shin, was on probation at the time of the surgery because of a conviction for assaulting a process server with a meat cleaver.

The 1-800-GET-THIN company said in a recent news release that it “gives its full support” to the law signed by Brown.

“The surgery centers that advertise with 1-800-GET-THIN are fully accredited to provide the highest patient safety and would not be adversely affected” by the law, the company said.

In other legislation involving medical facilities, Brown vetoed Senate Bill 408 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina). The measure would have required hospitals to file a new license application when they undergo a change of ownership interest.

“New license applications can be several hundred pages long and are very costly for hospitals as well as government,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “This bill would require new license applications for routine business transactions that do not require such scrutiny.”

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.