MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: Case Highlights L.A. County Inaction
Los Angeles County is pushing to review a medical malpractice settlement stalled for months because of regulations regarding doctors on the public payroll. Today's Los Angeles Times reviews the case of 56-year-old Charles Hamilton, who died on the operating table three years ago when "an unsupervised first-year surgical intern stuck a catheter into a vein in his chest and his heart went haywire." Hamilton's family sued the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center for "medical negligence, inadequate training and lax supervision," and county lawyers agreed in November to settle, conceding that Hamilton died because of "an unnecessary procedure." But "Hamilton's survivors haven't seen a penny" of the $625,000 settlement yet, primarily because the Board of Supervisors won't approve malpractice settlements for county doctors "until the hospital conducts a thorough review of the case." The Times notes that Hamilton's wife never received any contact from the hospital "to inform her that ... corrective actions were taken." She also learned from a reporter that "the hospital only drafted a plan of corrective action" when ordered to do so by "top county health officials." The review was completed last month, nearly three years after the incident, and the Board of Supervisors plans "to take up the matter July 7."
No Time To Wait
"'You have to investigate these things' when they happen," said Dr. Donald C. Thomas, the county's associate health services director. "We are in the process of fixing that right now," he added, noting that he was finally "forced to order" Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center to review the case "in the last few months". He said, "The only thing I can say is a mea culpa." Thomas noted that the county health department is seeking "to ensure that all six of its hospitals aggressively investigate all unexpected patient deaths and injuries," a practice that, it is believed, would expedite the corrections process (Meyer, 6/23).