Another Southern California liver transplant scandal

In September I posted about a hospital in LA that suspended its liver transplant program after the LA Times reported that a Saudi man paid a premium to jump to the top of the waiting list. That incident cost the life of another man who should have received the liver.

Now the same reporters (Charles Ornstein and Alan Zarembo) have reported something even worse: being on the waiting list for a liver transplant at UC Irvine Medical Center is effectively a death sentence.

Over the last two years, more than 30 people died awaiting liver transplants at UCI Medical Center in Orange as the hospital turned down scores of organs that might have saved them… More than 100 UCI patients still are waiting for transplants, and 28 have joined the roster this year alone — despite a staffing shortage that dampens their prospects for a transplant.
[T]he UC Irvine medical center has not had a full-time liver transplant surgeon since July2004. Thee center has performed just five liver transplants this year and has consistently fallen below the minimum number required by the federal government to maintain funding…The low number of surgeries was not for lack of offers. Between August 2004 and July 2005, the hospital received 122 liver offers, most of them from the regional organ procurement agency, which coordinates donations and offers in Southern California. But only 12 were transplanted, including two that went to the same patient because the first one failed…

The Times obtained the information under the Freedom of Information Act, which goes to show that aggressive investigative journalism and availability of government records are a key aspect of holding the health care system accountable.

I wonder whether transplant programs elsewhere are just as corrupt.

November 10, 2005

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