San Diego hospitals fined for patient deaths

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The deaths of patients who were able to get out of their beds at two San Diego area hospitals, despite a risk of falling, resulted in large fines levied Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health.

UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest was fined $100,000 for one incident in which the patient was found dead in a canyon five days later. Palomar Medical Center in Escondido will have to pay $50,000 for an incident in which a man suffered a fatal head injury in a fall.

In the UCSD case, a 58-year-old man who was being treated for bleeding on the brain and two neck fractures got out of his bed and left the hospital grounds, even though he was partially disoriented, according to a CDPH report.

Nurses told investigators that they tried to reach security via pager, phone and a panic button, but it took around 10 minutes for them to respond. It was later determined that the panic button at the nurse’s station near the patient’s bed was inoperative, according to the CDPH report.

The CDPH also said the hospital didn’t have a written procedure for how staff was to contact security in an emergency.

Thomas Vera of Chula Vista was later seen on surveillance recordings walking away from the hospital in his surgical gown. His body was found five days later at the bottom of a steep, brush-choked canyon a few blocks from the hospital.

A statement issued by UC San Diego Health Sciences said: “UC San Diego Health System underwent extensive internal and external investigations to identify the reasons that led to this tragic event.”

“In response, UC San Diego Health System submitted plans of correction to the California Department of Public Health which were accepted and implemented. We remain vigilant in training employees to communicate quickly and effectively with our hospital security team so that responses to patient needs are timely, with safety as the first priority.”

Palomar Medical Center in Escondido was fined $50,000 for a 2013 incident in which a 68-year-old man, who was confused and tried to get out of bed multiple times, finally did so and fell.

The unidentified patient had been admitted for respiratory failure, pneumonia and stomach cancer.

The agency’s report said hospital staff had to prevent the man from getting out of bed several times during the night. In the morning, staff noticed his cardiac monitor had been disconnected, and when they rushed to his room, he was found on the floor.

The man suffered skull fractures and bleeding on the left side of his brain. The report did not specify the length of time between his fall and his death.

Hospital staff later said an alarm that notifies nurses when patients at risk for falling try to get out of bed had been turned off, according to the CDPH.

Palomar Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Categories: KUSI