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Hospital Fined $86K for Retained Object Can't Figure How It Got There

The left-behind towel was never intended for internal use.

Published: February 1, 2016

RETAINED OBJECT A towel like this was left inside a patient for 3 months.

Counting wouldn't have helped, say officials from a California hospital that was recently fined $86,625 over a retained object incident. The object, described as a "blue towel," was intended only for surgeons "to dry their hands" and "not to ever be used internally," they say.

Community Medical Regional Center, in Fresno, discovered the towel during a second surgery, 3 months after a patient had had his bladder and prostate removed, according to news reports. The patient told investigators he'd lost 43 pounds in the first month after the first surgery and had no energy. "I felt like I might not live," he said. Ironically, he'd been X-rayed after the first surgery because a scissor count was incorrect, but the towel wasn't visible on the X-ray. It wasn't until 2 months later, after a scan showed an "abdominal mass," that a second surgery was scheduled.

A hospital official says no one recalled the towel going into the body, but that it "was obviously overlooked, because what goes in is supposed to come out, and that did not happen in this case." OR staff members were said to be "devastated" when they learned what had happened.

Though the towels in question had never been considered a countable item, "as a result of this regrettable incident," the hospital has "completed corrective steps, adjustments in procedures and appropriate training of staff," Michelle Von Tersch, vice president of corporate communications for Community Medical Centers tells the Los Angeles Times.

The fine, which was issued by the California Department of Public Health, was the hospital's fourth since a 2007 state law requiring hospitals to self-report errors that could cause serious injuries or death became effective.

Jim Burger


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