Changes Made After Harbor-UCLA Hospital Cited for Cleanliness, Safety

Hospital executives say “things have been fixed” after a federal report showed the hospital failed to maintain a safe and clean environment in its operating rooms

When nine surveyors representing the California Department of Public Health toured the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in February, they found infection control problems so serious, that it prompted the federal government to send a letter to the hospital in June, threatening to pull its Medicare funding.

The findings are detailed in a 55-page report (PDF) obtained by NBC LA.

In response to the report, Harbor-UCLA enlisted help from doctors, nurses and quality control leaders to fix the problems, said Delvecchio Finley, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

“I am confident that when they come back, they will not find what they found in February,” said Finley, who said he was aware of the hospital’s course of action to fix the problems when he became head of the hospital in October.

While the Federal Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services found the issues serious enough to warn the hospital about losing its funding, according to Finley, the level of the warning was far from the most serious.

“These surveyors go in looking for things,” Finley said. “There is no hospital that comes up with no findings. We did not receive the most serious warning, which is an ‘immediate jeopardy’ but we still took the issues very seriously.”

The problems observed by the public health surveyors, according to the report, included patient privacy concerns in the dialysis unit, contamination issues and sanitary violations, like accumulated dust and dirt in the surgical suites.

In the hospital’s dialysis unit, the word “clotted” was written next to a patient’s name on a schedule board, which was visible to anyone who entered the room, the report showed.

In the primary care clinic, a “reagent solution” used for urine testing was found stored with food in a refrigerator.

Operating rooms were also kept at the wrong humidity level, the report said.

“That could potentially spread microorganisms to the clean and sterile environment,” surveyors noted.

Harbor-UCLA, considered a safety net for low-income and uninsured patients, is one of Los Angeles County’s busiest hospitals, especially after Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital shut down its inpatient and emergency care units in 2007.

The closure came after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the same group that issued Harbor-UCLA its warning, revoked $200 million in annual funding because of ongoing lapses in care.

Harbor-UCLA is owned and operated by the county, just like King-Harbor was.

Finley blamed other problems noted in the report, like holes in the ceiling and humidity control in the operating rooms, on the building itself, which opened in 1963.

“We have a very old building and there’s no reliable way to control humidity,” Finley said. “So what we did is we brought in portable humidifiers.”

Surveyors noted use of portable humidifiers could compromise a sterile environment.

Finley said he hopes moving into a new facility will alleviate most of the hospital’s challenges.

Plans are now underway to build a $323 million surgical facility at the hospital. Finley said he expects the project to be complete in two to three years.

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