California Watch
A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting
Submitted by Christina Jewett on November 5, 2010

The state’s top hospital inspection regulator is calling on the chief executives of 80 California hospitals to report any serious incidents that have happened in the last several years or swear that none have occurred.

Since 2007, a state law carried by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, has required hospitals to file reports any time one of more than two dozen serious mishaps known as “adverse events” occur. During more than three years of reporting, though, 80 hospitals have never lodged an adverse event report with the state.

The events include a patient getting a bedsore, dying within 24 hours of surgery or committing suicide. I wrote about events that have been reported recently and posted a spreadsheet that shows reported incidents, ranging from a death or significant injury to an assault at San Francisco General Hospital to a surgery performed on the wrong body part at UC San Diego Medical Center.

The hospitals claiming no serious incidents include several psychiatric facilities as well as mid-sized acute care facilities including Temple Community Hospital in Los Angeles, Alhambra Hospital Medical Center in Alhambra and St. Helena Hospital. (See the full list below.)

The no-reports-filed issue came up during a Senate Health Committee hearing on Oct. 20. Department of Public Health deputy director Kathleen Billingsley testified during the hearing that her office was in the process of shipping the letters to hospital executives up and down the state.

The letter asks executives to explain how they determined that no adverse events occurred, if that’s the position the hospital takes.

Alquist, the committee chairwoman, expressed skepticism during the hearing about the facilities that have filed no reports: “I find it interesting that there are 80 hospitals that think they’re perfect,” she quipped.

The law requires hospitals to report events within five days or face fines. The state has issued more than $1 million in fines but mostly in late-reporting scenarios where the hospital reported an incident more than five days after it occurred.

This process, though, may give the state strong legal standing if hospitals falsely certify that nothing has gone wrong. State hospital inspectors, who routinely complete in-depth investigations, may be in a position to know otherwise.

To read enitre story, click here.