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California Legislation Seeks to Curb Dialysis-Related Medical Errors

End-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients rely on dialysis to survive without a functioning kidney. When medical errors occur at dialysis facilities, the results can be deadly. With this in mind, California lawmakers are considering legislation to improve patient safety at dialysis facilities.

Dialysis-Related Medical Mistakes

More than 500,000 ESRD U.S. patients receive dialysis every year. The majority, nearly 65 percent, undergo treatment in dedicated centers. In addition to undergoing hemodialysis, patients often receive multiple medications at the dialysis center. As a result, medical errors frequently occur. Some of the most common dialysis-related medical mistakes include patient misidentification, failure to properly sanitize dialysis equipment, and medication errors.

Large dialysis facilities often provide dialysis treatment to 30 patients or more per shift. With three to four shifts per day, the total number of patients treated can exceed 100 each day. When multiple patients are completing dialysis treatments at the same time and a new shift of patients is beginning treatment shortly thereafter, the risk of medical malpractice increases dramatically.

Proposed California Legislation

The legislation, Senate Bill Number 349, would impose minimum staffing and minimum transition time requirements for dialysis facilities. The bill states that “[c]urrent staffing levels in outpatient dialysis clinics in California are inadequate to protect patient health and worker safety, and therefore are presently causing harm to dialysis patients, including unnecessary and avoidable deaths, hospitalizations, infections, and medication errors.”

Under the bill, at least one nurse must provide direct care for every eight patients. In addition, at least one technician must provide direct care for every three patients. A nurse or technician may only count toward the required ratio during time periods the staff member has no responsibilities other than direct care. The legislation would also impose a transition time of at least 45 minutes between patients and mandate that the California Department of Public Health conduct inspections of chronic dialysis clinics at least once per year rather than the current schedule of every six years.

Senate Bill Number 349 would also establish a schedule of penalties and actions to be taken when facilities fail to comply with the minimum staffing and minimum transition time requirements, including the imposition of civil fines and the requirement that chronic dialysis clinics submit a correction action plan. The patient safety legislation would also establish a private right of action to enforce the minimum staffing and minimum transition time requirements.

As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we are hopeful that this bill can help improve the safety of California’s 500 licensed outpatient dialysis clinics. We will continue to track its progress and post updates as they become available.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a dialysis-related medical error, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego medical malpractice lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.