Press Release

State Fines Sutter/Alta Bates For Failing to Properly Isolate Potentially Infectious Patients

State Slaps Sutter/Alta Bates with $142,970 in Multiple Fines For Failing to Properly Isolate Potentially Infectious Patients

Latest in a Series of Safety Infractions at Troubled Oakland Hospital

California’s Department of Occupational Health and Safety has slapped Sutter corporation’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland with multiple fines totaling $142,970 – including two “willful serious” safety violations at the maximum penalty of $70,000 each for failure to properly isolate patients that threatened to expose other patients, visitors, and staff to major diseases such as tuberculosis (TB).

Nurses will discuss the safety violations at a 12:15 rally, at the hospital, 350 Hawthorne, Oakland

Most of the total fine was for placing potentially infectious patients in non-functioning isolation rooms, as well as placing them in rooms that do not meet state requirements to protect staff, visitors and other patients from airborne transmitted diseases, including TB.

The remainder of the fine was for failing to conduct annual and daily testing of the rooms, missing records, and failure to provide staff with proper equipment.

“These are extremely serious safety violations that expose everyone who enters or works in that hospital to severe risk,” said California Nurses Association Co-President Malinda Markowitz, RN.

“What make this behavior even more disturbing is that Sutter knew they had a significant problem with isolating potentially infectious patients, and did nothing to correct it or notify staff or the public,” said Sutter Alta Bates RN Mike Hill.

Patients presenting with symptoms of TB or other airborne transmitted diseases are supposed to be placed in functioning “negative pressure” rooms that have an air flow system that transmits air into the room and then exhausts it outside the building, rather than going back into corridors where others in the hospital are exposed.

An intensive care unit room listed in the citation “was known by Summit to be not functioning since 2011,” said Hill. “This put patients, visitors, us staff, and anyone nearby in an extremely hazardous situation of contracting whatever that patient was isolated for.”

The second violation concerns failure to meet safety requirements in the isolation room. For example, notes Hill, the room is supposed to have a full air exchange 12 times per hour, but the exchange was only occurring three times per hour. Anything less requires the use of a specialized filter and other protective equipment, which Alta Bates Summit also failed to provide in the required manner.

A pattern of safety violations

What makes the latest incidents even more egregious is a history of safety violations at the Oakland hospital, says CNA. “Ignoring safety problems is hardly an isolated occurrence for Sutter and Alta Bates Summit. This hospital is a repeat offender. Serious safety problems have become almost routine at Summit and apparently ignored by Sutter officials which should alarm everyone in our community who is in need of hospital care in Oakland,” Markowitz said.

Last June the same hospital was fined $84,450 following a settlement agreement between the state and ABSMC on a penalty assessed at $164,350, mostly for the Oakland hospital’s failure to report a deadly case of meningococcal disease to local public officials, and failure to notify employees exposed to the highly contagious illness “in a timely manner.”

The sanction resulted from a 2009 incident in which an unconscious patient was brought to the hospital with what tests on spinal fluid provided indications of bacterial meningitis. But the hospital failed to notify the health department, police and fire departments, and hospital staff for several days, crucially missing the time period in which effective oral medications could have been provided. A police officer and respiratory tech suffered permanent disabling effects.

Then, earlier this year, the same hospital reported a rare “code dry,” a significant disruption in the water supply that resulted in loss of running water and plumbing for several hours that culminated with raw sewage seeping through some walls and ceilings. Hospital officials failed to send out a notice throughout the hospital for two hours.