In 2007, California initiated a hospital penalty program that fined hospitals for preventable errors that put patients in severe jeopardy.

The Department of Health issues these fines about every six months, and, in the most recent round, 13 hospitals were penalized for major lapses in care including leaving surgical implements in patients, medication errors, and operating on the wrong body part.

Since the penalty program went into effect, 134 fines have been levied against 90 hospitals. The program relies on self-reporting by hospitals, so the numbers of errors may actually be higher than they appear. Among the hospitals fined were:

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  • The Los Angeles Community Hospital in Norwalk, where a patient who was supposed to have been restrained pulled out a tracheotomy tube and subsequently died.
  • California Hospital Medical Center, where an emergency room resident misdiagnosed a woman with an ectopic pregnancy (she was not pregnant) and administered methotrexate, which caused immunosuppression and major adverse effects.
  • Marina Del Rey Hospital, where intensive care nurses failed to monitor a patient’s oxygen levels, resulting in the patient passing out and having to be put on a ventilator.
  • St. Jude Medical Center, where a patient died in the emergency room after nurses failed to notice that the heart monitor was disconnected.
  • Kaiser Foundation Hospital, where a 90-year-old patient was given medication intended for another patient, resulting in his being intubated and on a ventilator.
  • Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, where a surgical team left a sponge in the pleural cavity of a patient during surgery, necessitating a second surgery.
  • San Francisco General Hospital, where surgeons left a gauze sponge in a patient which went unnoticed for three months until the patient returned to the hospital.
  • John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, which received four fines for incidents involving the use of untrained and non-certified nurses in the emergency room, resulting in the death of a two-year-old child.
  • Hoag Memorial Hospital, where a patient was injured when a metal gurney that she was lying on was placed in a room with an MRI machine. When the MRI was turned on, the gurney was pulled by magnetic force into the machine, crushing the patient’s leg.

The deputy director of the California Department of Public Health has said that money from the fines will be used on projects to determine how to reduce and eventually eliminate these sorts of errors.