In the same week state lawmakers blasted executives from Good Samaritan Hospital and its parent company HCA Healthcare for “dangerous” safety practices and staffing levels, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned from multiple sources inside the hospital that public health inspectors are actively probing a multitude of complaints recently submitted by nurses to state regulators.
A spokesperson for HCA Healthcare confirmed inspectors recently visited the facility but declined to state why.
In yet another apparent blow to the hospital, Los Olivos Women’s Medical Group, an OBGYN medical practice affiliated with Stanford Health Care, stopped using Good Samaritan Hospital earlier this month for deliveries, surgeries, and emergency care. Multiple sources at Good Samaritan said staffing and safety concerns prompted Los Olivos to choose a different hospital partner. Los Olivos and its healthcare partner Stanford Health Care did not return multiple calls from NBC Bay Area, but Los Olivos’ website now says the practice will use nearby El Camino Hospital moving forward.
In a statement to NBC Bay Area, HCA spokesperson Janine de La Vega said patient safety is the hospital’s top priority and that “mothers and babies are in safe hands with our top-notch physicians and care teams.”
Staffing Violations in Labor and Delivery Department
But many of the staffing complaints from nurses come from Good Samaritan’s labor and delivery department, where public health inspectors found four separate staffing violations in 2019 alone.
“A review of staffing records for the week of 8/11/19 to 8/17/19 indicated mandatory staffing ratios were not met on 5 of 7 days (8/11, 8/12, 8/13, 814, and 8/16),” one such report states.
Good Samaritan’s health inspection records are not currently posted online, but in a statement de la Vega indicated the hospital had similar violations as recently as this year. Not specifying the department, she wrote, “We self-reported some instances this spring when we experienced a lack of nurse staff availability, and these were corrected quickly. We take staffing issues seriously and review each one thoroughly.”
“Oh, it’s scary some days going into work,” said Diana Rossman, a nurse in the hospital’s high-risk antenatal until. “You don’t know what type of staffing you’re going to walk into.”
COVID Vaccine Controversy and CEO Resignation
This week’s developments come just months after the hospital’s name made national headlines in January for allowing staff at a nearby school district to sign up for vaccine shots before being eligible under county guidelines. Then CEO Joe DeSchryver resigned shortly thereafter. In an email to staff, DeSchryver wrote he was leaving to pursue “career advancement opportunities.”
NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit spoke to more than 10 inside sources at Good Samaritan about safety issues they say could put patients in harm’s way. In addition to staffing violations, a review of state inspection records revealed other incidents that regulators say had the potential to put patients in jeopardy.
Those sources now say staff are leaving in droves and accuse hospital and HCA Healthcare management of putting profits ahead of patients.
“There’s a sadness and there’s also a part of you that’s angry, because that’s now what the focus should be,” said Christine Weng, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit. “Our focus is to take care of patients so they can go home to their families.”
High Number of Complaints, Low Hospital Rating
State records show Good Samaritan has had more than double the number of complaints over the past three years as an average California hospital of its size.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which uses a five-star rating system to evaluate hospitals on their overall performance, gives Good Samaritan two stars.
“It’s become intolerable over this last 12 months to 18 months,” Rossman said. “HCA is making their profits, and managers or administrators are getting their bonuses off of our blood, sweat, and tears.”
After multiple requests, HCA Healthcare declined an interview with NBC Bay Area. It addressed staffing violations in one of its multiple statements to this news organization.
“Patient safety is our highest priority at Good Samaritan Hospital. As part of our quality improvement journey, when we experience rare instances like these, we address them quickly and take steps to prevent them from happening again,” de la Vega wrote.
Other Troubling Incidents
In addition to the staffing violations, NBC Bay Area’s investigation turned up several other troubling incidents.
In late April, an airlifted patient was stuck on the hospital’s roof for 16 minutes because the elevator on the helipad malfunctioned. NBC Bay Area obtained cell phone video of the helicopter later landing in the hospital’s parking lot to unload the patient.
An HCA spokesperson confirmed the incident, saying there was no harm to the patient and the elevators are now tested three times per day.
In October, Santa Clara County fined the hospital for giving inadequate notice to patients about COVID testing, and separately, for denying a symptomatic patient, who was also a nurse at the hospital, a COVID test.
A month before, according to a state inspection report, a nurse witnessed a fly crawl out of the nose of a patient in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Live maggots were soon discovered living inside.
In March 2019, a patient was left on a bedpan from 8:30 at night to 2:30 in the morning, leaving a deep tissue injury, according to a state inspection report
And in 2018, a patient was found passed out by his mother after he was accidentally given a double dose of pain medication, according to another inspection report.
The same year, a lawsuit accused the hospital of losing a body because “another body was stacked on top of it.” Good Samaritan settled the lawsuit and told NBC Bay Area changes were made after a failure to follow storage protocol.
Blasted By Lawmakers
State Sen. Dave Cortese, one of a trio of South Bay lawmakers who took Good Samaritan and HCA Healthcare executives to task last week, said their letter came after months of back-and-forth discussions with the hospital.
“This has really just been an ongoing concern,” Cortese said. “There seems to be some level of tone deafness, some level of lack of concern and compassion.”
Despite Good Samaritan’s recent issues, business seems to be doing just fine for HCA Healthcare. The company’s stock price has about doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, and it netted $3.8 billion in profits last year, up from $3.5 billion in 2019, according to the company’s financial reports.
Weng said she feels misled.
“They use COVID as an excuse to say, ‘oh, we’ve lost so much money that we have to constrain,’” she said.
According to Christopher Whaley, a researcher with the non-profit RAND Corporation, healthcare costs at Good Samaritan Hospital sit above the national average. Not surprising, he says, given its parent company is HCA Healthcare.
“HCA is one of the, if not the largest, hospital systems in the country,” Whaley said. “When hospitals get bigger, prices go up and quality of care either doesn’t get any better, or, in some cases, gets worse.”
Sources inside Good Samaritan point to the 1996 HCA acquisition of Good Samaritan as a negative turning point for a hospital that’s been one of the foundations of South Bay health care for decades. Initially funded by the church, the hospital opened its doors to patients in 1965 operating as a non-profit.
Now, Weng and Rossman say they’re reaching their limits.
“I’ve really considered leaving,” Weng said.
They say the business side of healthcare at Good Samaritan is getting in the way of providing care.
“You have to draw the line somewhere,” Rossman said.
Investigative reporter Candice Nguyen and investigative producer Michael Bott contributed to this report. To contact them about this story or others, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.