UPDATE, Dec. 29: Surgeons at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka did not leave two different objects inside two different patients after surgeries this summer, the state Public Health Department said Thursday. That only happened once.
Two episodes involving "retained foreign objects" show up on the state website because St. Joseph doctors reported them, as required by law, but one involved a blunder by a different hospital, Matt Conens of the department's public affairs office said in an email.
In that one, St. Joseph surgeons removed two sponges from a patient who had complained of pain after a previous surgery at a different hospital, Conens said.
When asked about the two reports last week, the state had declined to provide details. St. Joseph also declined to offer any details in time for the Journal's deadline. It later said that something on the state's website was wrong, but it declined to specify what.
The state offered more information after St. Joseph asked it to correct its web descriptions, Conens said.
Somewhere on the vast state website that details the track records of California hospitals, something about St. Joseph Hospital is wrong, the hospital's spokeswoman has suggested.
In an email sent to the Journal after deadline on Tuesday, Leslie Broomall wrote, "When CDPH updates its website, we're confident the information related to St. Joseph Hospital will be corrected."
She declined to say Tuesday specifically what the hospital believes is incorrect. On Wednesday, asked again to elaborate, she did not return messages left on her office and mobile phone lines. She later said via email she hopes to get back to the Journal "shortly."
The California Department of Public Health was unable to immediately locate any request from St. Joseph to fix a web error, a public health spokesman said Wednesday, but it is still looking.
The website of the state Public Health Department lists more than 250 complaints, self-reported incidents and survey deficiencies involving St. Joseph Hospital dating back to 2004. Some are duplicates, clearly marked with the same identification number, but still show up twice.
The various reports range from public complaints that the state has concluded are unsubstantiated to hospital reports of deaths during or soon after surgery, which must be disclosed to the state even when no one suspects anything inappropriate happened.
The state website lists fines, including a $700 penalty assessed against St. Joseph last year for failing to report that one of its patients developed an ulcer while being cared for at the hospital in 2009. And the site provides a gateway to other reports in which the state has found St. Joseph or Redwood Memorial deficient, sometimes putting patients at risk of serious injury or death.
The public health website and other reports the state provides can be cryptic, as they were regarding two separate reports of "foreign objects" left in patients' bodies at St. Joseph over the summer. The episodes were reported about 2½ weeks apart, had different ID numbers in the state system, and prompted different state responses. So far neither the state nor St. Joseph has been willing to clarify whether they refer to two incidents or one.
That was one of several questions that Broomall declined to answer for a Journal article, "Operator Error."
Among the other questions she declined to answer:
Were any of the same surgeons involved in more than one of the irregularities outlined in the Journal article?
Have the hospitals changed their relationships with any of the surgeons involved in any of episodes?