Six Southern California hospitals fined for healthcare violations


State regulators have fined six Southern California hospitals for healthcare violations that included an emergency room nurse’s sexual assault on a patient at Chapman Medical Center in Orange.

The penalties, announced Friday by the California Department of Public Health, included the eighth assessed on Southwest Healthcare System in Murrieta, which has been fined more often than any other hospital in the state since financial penalties were adopted in 2007.

Southwest’s latest administrative fine of $100,000, the largest the state can impose, involved a nurse’s failure to recognize and take emergency action to deal with signs of fetal distress during a patient’s labor. The infant was stillborn.

The incident occurred in 2010, the same year the facility reached a settlement to improve care. Since then, Southwest has “implemented numerous patient care initiatives and other processes,” the hospital said in a statement, adding that last year it was found “in compliance with all patient care requirements.”

Chapman was fined $75,000 for a 2010 incident involving a patient who went to the emergency room complaining of arm pain. After injecting the woman with a narcotic painkiller, a male nurse kissed and fondled her and exposed himself, according to the state complaint.

The nurse was immediately suspended and the matter reported to police. Chapman representatives did not respond to several requests for comment.

Three of the hospitals — Kaiser Foundation in San Diego, USC’s Keck Hospital in Los Angeles and the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills — were fined for leaving a piece of medical equipment in surgical patients.

State officials said retention of a “foreign object,” as it is known, is the most common reason for hospital penalties, followed by medication errors. In the San Diego Kaiser case, a 2-foot-long surgical towel was left in the abdomen of a 69-year-old woman who developed excessive bleeding during gallbladder surgery.

The towel stayed there for 16 months until she was readmitted for a suspicious abdominal mass, when it was surgically removed. The hospital was fined $50,000.

An electrocautery tip was left in the chest of a heart patient at Keck, and a surgical sponge was left during a patient’s knee surgery at the motion picture hospital. Both were subsequently removed.

The health department fined the UC San Diego Medical Center $75,000 for failing to provide “considerate and respectful care” two years ago to a woman who refused to leave the emergency room after going there for a burn on the roof of her mouth.

When she was escorted to a taxi by hospital security, she would not get into the cab and was carried, face down, by hospital staff to the sidewalk, where she lay prone, according to the state complaint.

When the woman, who was obese, was turned over, her lips were blue. Staff performed CPR and admitted her to the hospital, where she remained for nearly a month.

In a statement, the medical center said it has since modified its safety policies, stepped up staff training and “expanded our facilities and increased the number of beds to care for a growing number of [emergency] patients.”

Elsewhere in the state, an additional seven hospitals were cited in the actions announced Friday, which imposed a combined $825,000 in penalties. All the facilities have the right of appeal and do not have to pay the fines until any appeals are resolved.