Laguna Honda appeals $100K fine in patient’s death 

Laguna Honda Hospital is appealing a citation and$100,000 fine levied by the California Department of Health Services after a patient fell from a window and died in October.

The citation, handed down by the state March 13, claims that hospital staff failed to provide adequate care for Hui Su, who was found wandering unsupervised through the facility and grounds on more than one occasion, according to the state. However, officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health said Su’s Oct. 30, 2006, death was an accident.

"You can’t always plan for an accident," DPH Director Mitch Katz said on Tuesday night at a public health forum presided over by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Su was hospitalized for severe dementia. On one occasion, she left the hospital grounds and attempted to board a Muni bus for Chinatown, the citation says.

Another time, hospital personnel found her in a wheelchair, wheeling herself toward a construction area within the grounds, according to a statement from the DHS.

The night of Su’s death, a nursing staff member saw the woman sleeping in her bed at approximately 8 p.m. At 8:10, she was reported missing, and at 8:25 an employee found her on the ground near Clarendon Hall, unresponsive, according to Eileen Shields, spokeswoman for the DPH.

Police investigators suspect that she fell from a third-story window, according to Shields.

The San Francisco Chief Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Hu died from blunt-force trauma to the head, but could not determine how far she fell.

Although local officials maintain that Hu’s death was an accident, the DHS citation argues that Hu was known to be "at high risk for falling and wandering," according to state public health officer Dr. Mark Horton.

Since Hu’s death, the hospital has implemented a correction plan, but is appealing the citation nonetheless, Shields said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said he would not comment on the citation or The City’s appeal.

"It’s inappropriate for me at this time to comment about it, since we’re appealing it," Newsom said Tuesday.

The citation is the latest in a string of problems for Laguna Honda Hospital. In April 2006, a state study of the hospital found evidence of sexual abuse, weapons, drugs and verbal threats of violence at the hospital.

That study was released in advance of a June 2006 ballot initiative that would have kept the hospital from treating patients who are a danger to themselves or others, and persons whose diagnosis is primarily psychiatric.

The measure was not approved by voters.

Staff Writer Bonnie Eslinger contributed to this report.

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