Nine Hospitals Fined $550,000 for Endangering Patients

Nine California hospitals were fined a total of $550,000 for serious medical errors that included a newborn getting morphine instead of the baby's mother, a girl being burned, and an elderly man who died after a fall.

Four of the hospitals fined by the California Department of Public Health are in San Diego County, with the rest in Alameda, San Bernardino, Marin, Orange and Riverside counties.

Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla was fined twice, for a total of $125,000. In one instance, a surgeon performing a hip replacement reported discovering dried blood on an instrument being used on a patient.

In a statement, the hospital responded that it is considering appealing the penalty because the "device manufacturer failed to provide proper in-service education" to staffers tasked with sterilization of surgical equipment.

In another instance at Scripps, a doctor unfamiliar with a specific type of catheter inserted the wrong end into a patient's spinal column, causing the tip of the catheter to break inside the patient.

Neither patient was harmed, the hospital said.

The fines at Scripps are the third and fourth administrative penalties issued since the state began issuing them in 2007.

The hospital said in its statement that the problems were self-reported in both instances because "we are committed to making Scripps Green Hospital a safe environment for our patients and our staff at all times."

Morphine intended for a new mother of triplets was mistakenly given to one of the babies at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo in April 2009. The error was noticed because the baby's breathing became labored and its skin grew dusky, but the baby survived. The hospital was fined $50,000.

In a statement, hospital officials said they reported the incident to the state immediately and won't allow mothers to stay in the neonatal intensive-care unit to prevent future medication errors, among other steps taken.

An autopsy also found that an elderly psychiatric patient at Pomerado Hospital in Poway died as a result of blunt head trauma sustained when he fell from a chair in June 2009. The hospital was fined $50,000 for the error and has submitted its plan of correction to the state.

The state health department issued a $75,000 fine to Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland and $50,000 fines to Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree, Marin General Hospital, Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, Pomerado Hospital in Poway and Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.

The hospitals can appeal the fines within 10 days or submit correction plans outlining how errors will be avoided in the future.

Since 2007, when the fines were enacted as law, a combined $4.8 million in penalties have been assessed and $2.9 million have been collected