State fines Mercy Medical Center $50,000

10/25/2013 6:31 PM

10/25/2013 9:35 PM

Mercy Medical Center Merced has been fined $50,000 for a 2012 hospital incident in which a nurse, according to a state report, burned the palm of a 3-month-old baby girl by improperly using a light.

Mercy was one of nine hospitals fined by the California Department of Public Health on Thursday, after “investigations found the facilities’ noncompliance with licensing requirements caused, or was likely to cause, serious injury or death to patients,” according to the department.

The child was identified by family members as Lylah Rose Payne Quezada of Atwater, when the Sun-Star first reported on the incident last year.

Family members said the baby was taken to the emergency room on March 28, 2012, with stomach flu and diarrhea.

According to the report, a nurse used a light without its protective cover to illuminate veins in the baby’s palm in an attempt to administer an IV. As a result, the baby suffered a third-degree burn. Usage of the light was not in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions for use, according to the report.

After the incident, Dignity Health, the hospital’s parent company, sent a letter to the family’s lawyer saying it was sorry and explaining how the baby’s palm was burned.

Robert McLaughlin, spokesperson for Mercy Medical Center Merced, submitted the following statement to the Sun-Star via email in response to calls about the state report. “The care and safety of our patients is our number one priority at Merced Medical Center,” the statement said. “We are aware of the circumstances of this case and have taken corrective actions to prevent this from happening again.”

According to the report, the hospital did take corrective actions after the incident, revising its procedures for when similar situations occur. Those actions, according to the report, included “progressive disciplinary corrective action” for the nurse who used the lamp improperly, and the “re-education” of nursing staff regarding pediatric standards of care, including using equipment only as intended.

Moseley Collins, the Sacramento-based attorney who’s representing the baby’s family, said the civil case is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 24 in San Francisco, where Dignity Health has its headquarters. Collins said he’s met with attorneys for Dignity Health, but the two sides were unable to agree on a settlement amount. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for medical malpractice, battery and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

“The reason the case is ongoing is because Mercy Merced has not been willing to pay what we think they should pay for the harm they’d done,” Collins said. The case would be over if that had occurred, he said.

Collins said the lawsuit is necessary to prevent such incidents from happening to anyone in the future. He said the nurse wrapped the baby’s hand and tiny fingers around the hot lamp and “held it tight,” causing the burn. “We want the hospital to do a better job next time with a little child like this. The state is trying to make the hospital safer and we’re trying to make the hospital safer by suing them. This is how you bring it to their attention,” Collins said.

“When (the hospital) has to pay money, they say to themselves ‘OK, next time we can’t do this.’”

Because of the severity of the burn, the infant’s hand required skin grafts. Collins said the child will likely suffer complications from the injury for the rest of her life. The procedure to repair the damage required skin to be taken from the baby’s groin to be placed on her left palm. Therefore, she could develop hair on her palm and that skin won’t grow at the same rate as the rest of her normal palm skin, which could require future surgeries.

“She’s going to have a lifetime of residual problems because of what that nurse did,” Collins said.

The fine is the hospital’s first administrative penalty, according to the report. The state filed 10 penalties Thursday against nine hospitals statewide, totaling $755,000.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209)385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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