To evaluate the risk for serious/sentinel adverse events among hospitalized children according to race, ethnicity, and language and to evaluate factors affecting length of stay associated with serious/sentinel adverse events.


We conducted a retrospective cohort study of all pediatric inpatients at a large children’s hospital from October 2007 to October 2009. We evaluated the relationship between self-reported race, ethnicity, and primary language; with having a serious or sentinel adverse event, defined as an unexpected occurrence involving risk of death or serious injury; or a potentially harmful event resulting from nonstandard practice. We also examined length of stay. Clinical complexity was adjusted for by using Clinical Risk Groups.


Of 33 885 patients, 8% spoke Spanish and 4% spoke other languages. Serious and sentinel events were rare; however, among patients with such events, 14% spoke Spanish. Adjusting for potential confounders, Spanish speakers trended toward an elevated odds of adverse event (odds ratio: 1.83 [95% confidence interval: 0.98–3.39]). Controlling for age, language, and clinical complexity, having an adverse event was associated with a nearly fivefold increase in length of stay (95% confidence interval: 3.87–6.12). Spanish-speaking patients with an adverse event were hospitalized significantly longer than comparable English speakers (26 vs 12.7 days; P = .03 for interaction between language and adverse event).


Hospitalized children from Spanish-speaking families had significantly longer hospital stays in association with an adverse event and may have increased odds of a serious or sentinel event. These findings suggest that an important component of patient safety may be to address communication barriers.

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