Stanford-affiliated John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek has been banned from treating some of California’s most seriously ill children, according to recent investigations by The San Francisco Chronicle.
California regulators with the Department of Health Care Services flagged 47 violations at the center and barred the center’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), which is partnered with Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, from treating patients covered by California Children’s Services (CCS). CCS is a public health program that has increased the PICU’s profits since it was first certified to treat patients associated with CCS in 2017.
State regulators investigated the PICU following a series of investigations by The Chronicle into four pediatric patients’ deaths, which The Chronicle claims were preventable. According to Chronicle reporting, one family involved in a lawsuit against John Muir claimed that the center took over the surgery for their daughter, Ailee Jong, “to try to boost its reputation, make money and vault the medical center into the big league of Bay Area children’s hospitals.”
John Muir’s PICU opened in 2015 under the partnership of Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. According to The Chronicle, the Jong family’s lawsuit alleges that John Muir misrepresented its pediatric program as being equivalent to Stanford’s.
According to a media statement from Ben Drew, Communications Chief at John Muir Health, “The findings by CCS were administrative — updating documentation, policies and procedures — and more than a dozen of the findings were resolved prior to our receipt of the report. CCS did not identify any concerns about the quality of care provided to any patients. We continue to admit and care for patients who require a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit level of care.”
“We are confident that our Corrective Action Plan, which will be submitted by May 16, will be approved, and we will continue to operate our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit as a CCS certified program,” Drew wrote.
According to The Chronicle, regulators found that John Muir’s PICU is one of only four state-approved PICUs that have “never reached the 350-patient threshold,” with annual numbers fluctuating between about 240 and 320. With only eight beds in its PICU, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the overall quality of patient care in the hospital.
Another lawsuit, filed by former doctor Dr. Alicia Kalamas, alleges that the hospital prioritized profit over the safety of its patients and ignored the red flags she raised over surgical dangers. According to The Chronicle, in her lawsuit, Kalamas said that she was treated by hospital executives as a troublemaker after her research found that there was a lack of hospital procedures to educate and provide medication for constipation arising from the prescription of painkillers post-surgeries.
Questions over the quality of care at John Muir were also raised earlier this year after a report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency, documented serious problems with the PICU. The Chronicle reported that federal health regulators threatened to cut federal Medicare funding for the hospital over “the potential for substandard care to go undetected and continue.”
This is not the first time that a Stanford-affiliated hospital has been publicly accused of failing to prevent pediatric patient death. A 2015 Vox investigation into how central line infections are addressed detailed the story of Nora Boström, whose family alleged that medical providers at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital could have prevented Boström’s death.
John Muir Health is a non-profit group that operates hospitals in both Walnut Creek and Concord. Its hospital in Walnut Creek is a “community hospital,” meaning it does not have a high patient volume or extensive care capabilities like academic centers or children’s hospitals. According to The Chronicle, federal regulators also flagged that hospital officials failed to specify procedures for transferring patients that needed expanded care.
Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, widely considered a top medical institution, has partnered with John Muir Health for over a decade, with John Muir receiving medical specialists and other resources. The institutions’ partnership was recently extended to 2032 to “continue to meet the needs of patients in the East Bay.”
In a statement from Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, Media & Public Relations Manager Elizabeth Valente wrote, “We look forward to continuing to work with John Muir Health as they cooperate with the California Department of Health Care Services on any findings and recommendations.”