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R.I. Hospital Fined For Third Instance of Doctors Operating on Wrong Side of Patient's Head

Rhode Island Hospital was fined $50,000 and reprimanded by the state Department of Health Monday after its third instance this year of a doctor performing brain surgery in the wrong side of a patient's head.

"We are extremely concerned about this continuing pattern," Director of Health David R. Gifford said in a written statement. "While the hospital has made improvements in the operating room, they have not extended these changes to the rest of the hospital."

The most recent case happened Friday when, according to the health department, the chief resident started brain surgery on the wrong side of an 82-year-old patient's head. The patient was OK, the health department and hospital said.

In February, a different doctor performed neurosurgery on the wrong side of another patient's head, said Andrea Bagnall-Degos, a health department spokeswoman. That patient was also OK, she said.

But in August, a patient died a few weeks after a third doctor performed brain surgery on the wrong side of his head. That surgery prompted the state to order the hospital to take a series of steps to ensure such a mistake would not happen again, including an independent review of its neurosurgery practices and better verification from doctors of surgery plans.

In a written statement, Rhode Island Hospital said it was working with the Department of Health to minimize the risk of medical errors.

"We are committed to continuing to evaluate and implement changes to our policies to help ensure these human errors are caught before they reach the patient," the statement read.

The hospital said it was re-evaluating its training and policies, providing more oversight, giving nursing staff the power to ensure procedures are followed, and other steps.

In addition to the fine, the state ordered the hospital to develop a neurosurgery checklist that includes information about the location of the surgery and a patient's medical history, and to put in place a plan to train staff on the new checklist.

The Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline and Board of Nursing is also investigating.