California hospitals whose mistakes resulted in harm or death to patients through the most egregious type of lapse, the "immediate jeopardy," have to pay for their mistakes. And pay, and pay, they have.
More than a third of the state's acute care facilities have been penalized a total of 326 times to date, in amounts as high as $100,000 for hospitals with three or more penalties since 2007. One hospital, Southwestern Medical Center in Murrieta, holds the record, having been fined 11 times.
And the Department of Public Health's coffers keep growing. As of late July, these fines have garnered about $12 million. Another $3 million in fines still awaits collection, including $1 million from 35 hospitals that have filed appeals.
If I were running a hospital, I would want to know that this money was put to good use to find out how and why these medical errors occur, and to find ways to keep them from reoccurring. After all, that is how the law that authorized these penalties in 2007 ordered the money to be spent.
But here's the rub.
Only about $1.2 million of the total amount collected—about $15 million in all— has been spent to date. Only $5 million of it has been allocated for four projects, and only one of those has been completed.