12 hospitals are fined over medical errors

State public health officials have fined 12 California hospitals for medical errors that hurt or killed patients, according to a report released Wednesday.

Three of the hospitals — L.A. County/USC Medical Center, Torrance Memorial Medical Center and Brotman Medical Center — are in Los Angeles County.

The penalties were issued for errors such as leaving foreign objects in patients’ bodies during surgery and administrating the wrong medication. They occurred in 2009 and 2010. The fines, which hospitals can appeal, range from $50,000 to $75,000 for each mistake.

“Most of these are preventable medical errors,” said Ralph Montano, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. “Either someone was harmed or killed or likely to be harmed.”


Since 2007, the department has issued 198 penalties to 124 hospitals and had collected $4.6 million in fines. The money goes to a special fund for improving patient safety, said Pam Dickfoss, acting deputy director of the department’s Center for Health Care Quality. Dickfoss said state officials were working closely with hospitals to prevent errors from happening again.

“These penalties have raised awareness in the healthcare industry,” she said. “It is our expectation that these incidents will decrease over time.”

At County/USC Medical Center, state officials determined that a 48-year-old man undergoing surgery in 2009 to treat severe burns suffered neurological damage after being administered anesthesia by an unsupervised nurse anesthetist. This was the fourth penalty issued to the hospital, according to the report.

At Torrance Memorial Medical Center, surgical staff left a bottle of lens defogging solution inside a patient during a 2009 operation to remove a kidney, according to the report. The bottle wasn’t discovered until the patient returned to the medical center for another operation, the report said.

The hospital issued a statement saying that it has since revised its operating room protocols to ensure patient safety. “Torrance Memorial Medical Center sincerely regrets the incident that occurred in June of 2009 when a foreign object was left in a patient during surgery,” the statement read. “The object was subsequently removed and the patient fully recovered.”

Investigators also found that an 82-year-old patient fell in 2009 at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City while trying to get out of his wheelchair. He suffered bleeding in his skull and later died. The hospital failed to follow proper procedures for preventing falls, the report said. The hospital had received one previous fine.

In San Luis Obispo, a 76-year-old patient at California Men’s Colony died after being given a dose of methadone intended for another patient in the same room, prompting a $50,000 fine to the hospital, the report said.

Several of the hospitals had been fined more than once. UC San Francisco Medical Center received its fifth administrative penalty for an incident that occurred in 2010, according to the state Department of Public Health.


In that incident, a sponge was left inside a patient undergoing surgery, the report said. The surgical staff didn’t do an accurate count of the number of sponges in part because a nurse was in a hurry to take a lunch break, according to the report.

In response to the error, the hospital stepped-up training and use of equipment to scan sponges used in surgeries, UC San Francisco Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Ken Jones said.

“UCSF is vigilant about detecting and reporting every potentially negative incident,” Jones said. “We constantly strive to improve our processes in order to continue making our hospital even safer.”