California hospitals and health clinics will face an increase in the number of yearly inspections and new regulations targeted to prevent infections, beginning Sunday, July 1st, under the provisions of State Senate Bills 739, 1301 and 1312.

“We will always follow the law, and many of these procedures (outlined in the new state guidelines) are already in place,” said Cyndee Woelfle, director of business development at Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center in Marina del Rey.

Barbara Browning, associate director of performance improvement at Santa Monica Hospital echoed Woelfle’s statements.

“We already have a committee in place that oversees the things that the state requires,” Browning, a nurse, asserted.

Under the new laws, hospitals will also be required to step up their reporting of “adverse events” that have taken place at some healthcare facilities.

“We are in the process of analyzing the laws and making sure that all hospitals comply with the new requirements,” Norma Arceo, public information officer for the California Department of Health Services (DHS) told The Argonaut.

Beginning July 1st, state healthcare facilities will be obligated to report a list of “adverse events” to the Department of Health Services. Surgical mistakes, drug problems, medical equipment malfunctions and other hazards fall under the heading of adverse events.

“When these incidents occur, we are required to send a team of investigators out to the hospital to oversee the investigation,” Arceo explained.

Senate Bill 1301 establishes a system for the timely collection of mandated reports of medical errors from general acute care hospitals, acute psychiatric hospitals, and special hospitals. It also allows the state to perform on-site inspections for reported adverse events and increases the frequency of licensing inspections of facilities that report adverse events, and assess civil penalties for failure to report adverse events.

The bill’s author is Democratic State Senator Elaine Alquist of Santa Clara.

Senate Bill 1312, which Alquist also sponsored, requires the state to identify standards for the staffing and operation of healthcare facilities and reinstates the periodic licensing inspections of long-term care facilities for those standards that are more precise or offer patients greater protection than the federal standards or for which there are no corresponding federal standards.

The Department of Health Services will also be required to post the outcome of inspections, investigations, compliance histories and substantiated adverse events on its Web site.

Senate Bill 739, authored by former Senator Jackie Spier of Hillsborough, mandates that the Department of Health Services establish the Hospital Infectious Disease Control Program. In addition, the state is required to:

ï appoint a Healthcare Associated Infection Advisory Committee to recommend process measures for general acute care hospitals to prevent and reduce healthcare-associated infections;

ï implement internal procedures for general acute care hospitals to evaluate compliance to implement;

ï offer influenza vaccines to employees Healthcare Associated Infection process measures; and

ï develop a process for evaluating the use of antibiotics.

The Licensing and Certification Division of the California Department of Health Services is responsible for licensing 27 different types of healthcare facilities and/or services, including general acute care hospitals, acute psychiatric hospitals, chemical dependency hospitals, specialty hospitals (for dentistry or maternity) and skilled nursing homes, among others, said Arceo.

“In addition, the division is responsible for the certification of all of those facilities that receive Title XVIII and/or Title XIX funding,” she added. “These responsibilities encompass both complaints and surveys.”

Although hospital representatives who were interviewed for this story state categorically that their facilities already comply with the impending regulations, the state felt the need to expand certain portions of procedures that are already in place.

“It’s all about patients’ safety,” said Browning. While she says that Santa Monica Hospital has standards and procedures in place that already comply with state requirements, the new laws are welcome. “It never hurts to monitor these things,” Browning said.

“There’s been an identification that hospitals are not risk-free for patients,” Woelfle replied when asked her opinion on the attention and legislative support for Senate bills.

Both Browning and Woelfle cite reports of patients dying in hospitals or inspections of healthcare facilities that are deemed substandard that are publicized in news reports as possibilities as to why legislators have sought more state oversight regarding reporting of infections and hospital deaths.

“Often there is no opportunity to explain to the public what has happened in a given situation,” said Browning, the Santa Monica director.

“The reporting requirements will be different, but not our policies for tracking infections and monitoring meeting state and federal standards, which are already in place,” Browning reiterated.

“We always do continuing staff education, and we’ll do more training to make certain that everyone is up to date with the new regulations,” Woelfle stated. “Our goal is to comply with the new and existing laws.”

The new regulations will apply to clinics as well as hospitals.

Hospitals that fail to comply with the new laws will be subject to a fine. SB 1312 provides the Department of Health Services with a monetary penalty enforcement system for all acute care settings. For deficiencies constituting “immediate jeopardy” occurring retroactive to January 1st this year, a penalty of $25,000 may be imposed.