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12 Hospitals Fined For Patient Harm, Deaths in CA

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 6, 2011

Two patients died and two others came close to death because of medication overdose errors while a fifth patient succumbed from injuries due to a preventable fall, California officials said in the latest round of immediate jeopardy fines, this time totaling $650,000 imposed on 12 hospitals.

"I think this has created a heightened awareness in the community with the release of these penalties," Pam Dickfoss, acting deputy director of the Center for Health Care Quality, California Department of Public Health said in a news briefing Thursday. "Our goal in the department is to improve the quality of care for all hospitals."

California's monetary penalties against hospitals are among the strictest in the nation. In addition to fines for these incidents hospitals are fined $100 per day after five in which the event goes unreported to the state.

Since immediate jeopardy penalties law took effect in 2007, hospitals whose providers cause patient harm or death to patients, or who create situations that can do so, have received 185 immediate jeopardy fines totaling nearly $4.9 million. Those fines have been levied against 118 individual hospitals, about one in four in the state. Several hospitals have received multiple fines.

Asked if the fines are having their intended effect, Dickfoss said hospitals are still incorporating reporting of these events into their protocols and procedures, and "are educating their staff on adverse events." She expects that penalties will continue to be imposed and will even peak at some point before they begin to decline when more safety precautions are put in place.

Medical errors that place patients in immediate jeopardy of harm in 2009 or later are assessed at $50,000 for the first, $75,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third or more. State officials said hospitals are appealing 35 of the previously levied penalties.

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