WESTWOOD—State health officials have issued an ultimatum. Nearly 90 hospitals scattered across California are believed to be underreporting medical errors. By law, hospitals must report all medical errors, big and small, in 28 specified categories. Hospitals are then fined according to each category, raising a substantial amount of revenue for the state. According to the California Department of Public Health, the state can impose fines of $50,000 for the first incident, $75,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third or any subsequent errors. The state has identified 1,100 errors since laws requiring reporting went into effect in 2007. The central idea behind reporting of medical errors is the notion that disclosure will discourage medical laziness. Hospitals have been given an allotted period of time to verify previous figures, or to come forward with medical errors.
Many hospitals, however, have lower-risk clientele, resulting in what some hospital personnel claim is a lower incidence rate of medical errors. Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA in Westwood is one such entity. Mark Wheeler at Resnick referred Canyon News to the statements of Resnick officials in an investigation conducted by the Los Angeles Times. According to the Los Angeles Times report, Resnick holds that it is no surprise psychiatric hospitals would have fewer errors, since these facilities do not handle the high-risk surgical cases seen at acute-care hospitals. Many of these facilities do not even have emergency rooms, also decreasing the likelihood of error.
Ralph Montano at the California Department of Public Health provided Canyon News with a list of non-reporting hospitals. The list includes such high profile facilities as Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco and Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles.
Montano also provided a sample of the letter sent out to qualifying hospitals. The letter states, “On July 1, 2007, Senate Bill 1301 (Alquist, Chapter 647, Statutes of 2006) was enacted which mandates general acute care facilities, acute psychiatric facilities and special hospitals to report an adverse event to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).”
California has faced a hospital crisis for many years, seeing over 80 hospitals close down due to costs. Fines like those imposed for errors increase hospital costs, and many hospitals are not even in agreement over what constitutes an “error.” Montano says that the California Department of Public Health will soon be hiring an expert to calculate error tallies on a more scientific basis.