A metal clamp was left inside a surgical patient at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, the Los Angeles County hospital that has pledged to tighten procedures in the wake of several patient deaths.
The clamp, as long as a ballpoint pen, was left inside a patient treated for gunshot wounds two weeks ago. The error was discovered last week when the patient had a chest X-ray in preparation for another surgery, Los Angeles County health officials said.
The clamp was removed and the patient, whose identity was not released, did not appear to have been injured, officials said.
"That just shouldn't happen," said Kenneth Kizer, M.D., a former California health director and president of the National Quality Forum in Washington, D.C., a patient safety group. "In this patient, maybe it didn't cause any harm; the next one might not be so lucky."
Doctors failed to order a post-surgical X-ray to ensure that no instruments were left in the patient, said John Wallace, a spokesman for the county Department of Health Services.
In the past three years, the county has settled four lawsuits involving objects left in King Jr./Drew patients after surgery. In one case, a man received $50,000 because a catheter was left inside of him for at least six years.
State and federal inspectors have cited the 233-bed hospital in Willowbrook for a pattern of lapses in care, including errors that contributed to the deaths of five patients last year.
However, county health officials have said the hospital has corrected most of the problems identified by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and California's state licensing agency.