Santa Clara County has issued more than $40,000 in fines to private health systems for failing to comply with its coronavirus testing order.
HCA Healthcare's Regional Medical Center in San Jose was fined $22,750 for failing to adequately notify patients of their right to a COVID-19 test.
An enforcement officer inspected the center Oct. 20, noting the hospital did not "conspicuously" post COVID-19 testing notices in 13 different rooms, according to the notice of violation.
The hospital failed to correct the violation within the county's 48-hour grace period, and the county issued the fine Oct. 27.
In addition, HCA's Good Samaritan Hospital was issued $8,500 in fines — $3,500 for inadequate notice to patients and $5,000 for failing to test a patient who met the qualifications.
According to county officials, a registered nurse used the county's complaint portal, alleging Good Samaritan Hospital denied her a diagnostic test Oct 10.
The nurse, who was symptomatic, sought care at the hospital's emergency room and also reported to hospital staff that she had been exposed to a COVID-19 patient at her workplace. The nurse was eventually able to obtain a test through the county at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
"We are happy to report that the issue has been addressed and that signs are now posted in all required areas," Sarah Sherwood, a spokesperson for HCA Healthcare, said Nov. 27.
County Counsel James Williams announced in September the county would issue fines to private health systems for a failure to provide adequate access to COVID-19 tests.
"Private providers are still lagging significantly behind the county in the COVID-19 testing that they are providing to patients," county officials said. "Private healthcare systems are required under the Revised Testing Order to educate patients about their rights to COVID-19 testing."
According to the county, private hospitals can accomplish this through their website, promotional materials and notices posted at physical locations.
"Once patients know their rights and providers are consistently offering tests to all categories of patients covered by the Revised Testing Order, we would expect to see a substantial increase in testing by provider," county officials said.
Four other violations of the county's testing order were corrected within the grace period and thus did not result in fines, the county said.
County public health officials have sharply criticized private hospitals for not conducting enough COVID-19 tests. In September, former Deputy County Executive David Campos blamed hospitals for the county not moving into a lower-level tier to reopen businesses.
"The county is doing its part, we are testing more than our fair share," Campos said at the time. "If these private health hospitals actually tested at the level we wanted them to test, we probably would be in the orange (tier) today."
Two other hospitals were issued fines for providing inadequate notice to patients. The county fined these centers for similar reasons — there were not enough signs posted at facilities notifying patients of their right to a COVID-19 test.
The county issued an $8,250 fine against Palo Alto Medical Foundation's Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and San Jose centers for inadequate notice to patients. The county also issued a $3,750 fine against Kaiser Permanente's San Jose Medical Center.
Palo Alto Medical Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.
Irene Chavez, manager of Kaiser Permanente's San Jose Medical Center, said the company responded by placing signs in the center's emergency room ambulance bays.
According to Chavez, Kaiser's Northern California offices have collectively doubled their daily testing capacity to more than 12,000 tests per day after recently buying new lab equipment and facilities.
Santa Clara County's hospitals have conducted a vastly higher number of COVID-19 tests than those of private health systems, according to a report the county's public health department presented to the Board of Supervisors Nov. 10.
Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 8, the county conducted 18,402 tests, while Kaiser Permanente of Northern California conducted 9,370 tests.
Stanford Health Care Hospital conducted 5,416 tests, Sutter Health and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation conducted 1,928 tests and El Camino Health conducted 1,245 tests.
Dr. Christina Kong, medical director of pathology at Stanford Medicine, said the health care provider has not received any messages from the county that it needs to increase its COVID-19 testing.
Kong said Stanford Health is currently waiting on FDA approval to issue at-home self-collection kits that will be tested at their clinical virology laboratory.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said widespread testing is critical to informing public health officials on how the virus is spreading so they can advise on best practices and issue adequate health orders. People who test positive for the virus can also be isolated to prevent them for spreading the disease to others.
"We use testing in a variety of ways," Benjamin said. "If we're doing random testing, and we see a large number of people in the community who have a particular disease, we can advise those people to get tested and avoid risky activities."
This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight here.