California hospital temporarily operated unlicensed NICU due to 'technical issue,' CEO says

Health officials cited San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based French Hospital Medical Center for operating its neonatal intensive care unit without proper licensing for one month in late 2019, according to a state report obtained by NBC affiliate KSBY.

The California Department of Public Health investigated the hospital, part of San Diego-based Dignity Health, in October 2019. Officials determined French Hospital was offering services typically performed at level 2 NICUs, even though it was only registered as a level 1 NICU with the state. Health officials recommended the hospital apply for a program flex to allow its clinicians to treat babies 32 weeks and older.

"The statement from the survey team following their investigation was that they believe the hospital had all of the capabilities and competencies needed to treat this level of newborns and that the program flex would address any licensing requirements," a spokesperson for Dignity Health told Becker's via email.

French Hospital CEO Alan Iftiniuk told KSBY the error stemmed from a "technical issue," not a "patient safety or quality issue." The hospital conducted extensive staff training and obtained new equipment to meet the requirements of a level 2 NICU but did not immediately get state approval.

"We needed to do an application to CDPH," Mr. Iftiniuk told KSBY. "That box did not get checked, unfortunately."

French Hospital treated one infant in the month it was operating as an unlicensed level 2 NICU. The hospital submitted a plan of correction to the state and has since obtained the proper licensing.

Editor's note: This article was updated Feb. 15 at 3:15 p.m. to provide additional information from Dignity Health.

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