Ten California hospitals fined for placing patients in needless danger

Hospitals in various parts of California recently were punished for “immediate jeopardy” incidents, which cause or could cause serious injury or death.

When people in Costa Mesa seek medical attention or entrust the health of loved ones to medical professionals, they expect attentive, conscientious care. Sadly, though, it is not uncommon for patients to receive substandard care that results in injuries or more catastrophic outcomes. The recent citation of ten California hospitals for preventable and sometimes deadly errors helps call attention to this serious risk.

Immediate jeopardy

The hospitals were fined for allowing "immediate jeopardy" incidents to occur. According to NBC Bay Area News, these incidents involve errors that caused or could have caused catastrophic injuries or death. The California Department of Public Health issues fines for these incidents in the hope of fostering better training and care.

Many of the incidents cited this year represented disturbing cases of negligence. For example, CDPH reports describe the following three cases in which patients lost their lives because of unnecessary errors:

  • At a facility in San Andreas, surgeons failed to follow protocols designed to prevent surgical object retention. They excluded surgical towels from the surgical count and ultimately left some of the surgical towels in the patient. The towels compressed a blood vessel, which caused blood clots in the patient's legs and lungs.
  • At a center in Loma Linda, a resident physician placed a feeding tube but could not confirm its proper positioning. After misreading an x-ray, the physician decided that it was safe to begin tube feeding. The physician failed to realize that the feeding tube had entered the patient's lung.
  • In San Diego, a patient who sustained brain bleeding during a fall wandered out of the hospital. The hospital lacked proper protocols for notifying security or identifying residents who shouldn't be leaving the building. After wandering into a nearby canyon, the patient suffered from lung inflammation and dehydration.

Although incidents like these are atypical, they also may occur more frequently than patients would like to think. Six of the ten hospitals that were fined had previously been penalized for immediate jeopardy incidents. Four of the hospitals had received at least five fines for these incidents. One hospital had received a shocking 13 fines.

Establishing negligence

In cases such as these, proving that a physician failed to provide proper care may be relatively straightforward. However, many patients may suffer injuries because of mistakes that are less egregious, though no less harmful. These patients may be able to seek recourse through medical malpractice lawsuits. In these cases, though, it may be difficult to prove that a physician's care fell below acceptable standards.

Medical treatment usually depends on subjective decisions, which are made under time constraints or based on limited knowledge. As a result, victims of medical negligence often must use testimony from an expert witness to prove that mistakes were preventable. The testimony of an expert can help show that a medical professional did not act reasonably, given the circumstances.

Seek assistance

Documenting medical negligence or malpractice may be challenging even in cases where a medical professional's fault seems clear. Considering this, injury victims or surviving family members often can benefit from seeking legal advice. An attorney may be able to explain a victim's rights and potential options for seeking recourse.

Keywords: hospital, negligence, malpractice