A dozen California hospitals must pay "immediate jeopardy" fines totaling $650,000 for safety lapses that caused death or harm to patients under their care, state health officials announced Wednesday.
Since legislation establishing these penalties took effect in 2009, 124 hospitals have received 198 fines totaling $6.8 million, said Pam Dickfoss, acting deputy director of the Center for Health Care Quality, California Department of Public Health.
Dickfoss added that in these three years, "the number of substantiated adverse events has declined by 12% since 2008.
"Though we don't have the analysis to say that these penalties are the reason for the decline, I think it's a combination of factors," she said during a news briefing. "These penalties have raised an awareness within the healthcare industry, and hospitals are working closely with us to incorporate policies and procedures to prevent them. It's our expectation these events will (continue to) decrease."
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Asked whether the fine amounts – which have since 2009 ranged between $50,000 to $100,000 depending on whether it's the hospital's first, second, or subsequent offense – are enough of an incentive for hospitals to be more careful, she said she thinks they are.
"I think (hospitals) take them very seriously," Dickfoss said, adding that the money collected so far, $4.6 million, goes into an account that can only be used for quality improvement activities. About $1 million of that has been earmarked for specific projects.