Though Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital immediately and dramatically increased its security in the wake of 2009’s baby abduction incident, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recently levied a $50,000 fine on the hospital for past flaws in the facility’s now-corrected protocols.
In February 2009, an hours-old infant was taken from the maternity ward by 35-year-old Leianna Arzate, who was dressed in scrubs and posed as a nurse. She smuggled the baby out of the hospital in a handbag and was able to drive away without being noticed. Hospital staff immediately alerted authorities when they discovered what happened, and Arzate was arrested at her Santa Maria home hours later. The baby was returned to its parents unharmed. Arzate was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in state prison for kidnapping and first degree residential burglary.
Cottage was one of 14 California hospitals hit with the most recent round of CDPH fines that the agency has logged over the past two years. The “administrative penalties” are issued, according to officials, for “noncompliance with licensing requirements that have caused, or was likely to cause, serious injury or death to patients.” That includes, but isn’t limited to, issues with surgeries, prescription mix-ups, improper training, and unsanitary conditions.
A CDPH report found that security in Cottage Hospital’s maternity ward was noticeably lax at the time of the kidnapping. There were too few cameras and alarms in the area, the report reads, too many unlocked doors leading in and out of the unit, not strict enough personnel access policies, and so on. According to the report, those issues have been remedied, and Cottage has not had any similar incidents since.
Hospitals are required to report fineable offenses to the CDPH themselves, and 123 facilities have been assessed 214 penalties since 2007. A hospital is made to pay $50,000 for a first offense, $75,000 for a second, and $100,000 for the third or subsequent violations. This was Cottage’s first such offense. A CDPH spokesperson explained the release of this information is not meant to alarm the public but instead to ensure quality hospital health care throughout the state.