Penalties for medical mistakes at Valley hospitals

FRESNO, Calif.

The Department of Public Health only issues penalties in extreme cases and it issued two of them for incidents at Community Regional Medical Center last year. In one case, a heart surgeon actually left the hospital during open heart surgery while his patient's chest was still open.

On the operating table, a patient had just received open heart surgery at CRMC in April 2012. But before his chest was closed, the doctor was gone.

Newly released public documents show the doctor left the operating room and told a physician's assistant to finish the operation. The patient suffered massive blood loss for hours, had a heart attack, lost oxygen to his brain and ended up on life support.

The state Department of Public Health investigated and determined Community Regional had put the patient in what's known as immediate jeopardy.

"Immediate jeopardy is defined as when a hospital's failure to comply with one or more requirements of licensure has caused or is likely to cause serious injury or death to a patient," said Debby Rogers, with the CDPH's Center for Healthcare Quality.

Seven months later, another patient, another doctor, another mistake.

A patient with chronic pain was receiving a blood thinning drug through a catheter in her spinal cord. Despite warnings on the drug label that removing the catheter could cause a blood clot on the spine, a doctor told a physician's assistant to take it out. A blood clot formed and the patient was left paralyzed from the waist down. The two errors led to fines of $100,000 and $75,000 for Community Regional Medical Center.

Mercy Medical Center in Merced also received a $50,000 penalty for a case in which an infant was burned when nurses used an intense light to find a vein for a catheter. The state forced both hospitals to correct the problems.

"They need to respond with a corrective action plan to ensure the patient the event happened to is protected and to ensure that others in the hospital wouldn't be subject to the same level of violation," Rogers said.

Action News reached out to Community Regional for a response and got this statement:

"We know this has been a difficult time for the patients and family members involved, and it has been for the hospital as well," the statement read. "We've instituted improved safeguards with action plans that have been approved by the state."

The penalties do not stop patients from suing the hospitals in civil court.

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