In November, the University of California at Irvine Medical Center (UCI) suspended its liver transplant program after the government revoked its certification.
Those actions came in the wake of a report by the Los Angeles Times concerning some 32 patients who died over the past two years while awaiting transplants while the hospital turned down 95 available donor organs.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ report, cited by the L.A. Times, found UCI had performed just five liver transplants this year and no more than eight a year between 2002 and 2004. The minimum number of transplants required to maintain federal funding is 12.
According to the report, the program failed to keep a transplant surgeon available full-time as required. Instead, it has contracted outside surgeons.
A letter from Medicare’s Chronic Care Policy Group Director Laurence D. Wilson noted that the one-year survival rate of Irvine liver transplant recipients (68 to 70%) fell well below the 77% percent minimum needed to retain federal certification.
The case of a former UCI transplant patient, Elodie Irvine, prompted the federal inquiry. She had languished for four years on the hospital’s transplant list (1998 to 2002) despite promises that she would have a new liver within in anywhere from a week to a few months.
Eventually, after becoming suspicious, her kidney specialist advised her to transfer to another hospital where she received a liver transplant within only two months.
According to Ms. Irvine: “They let me sit and sit at home in bed for four years. I thought I was going to die. To be honest, most of my friends are dead. I watched them die one by one. They kept on telling us, ‘It’s soon, it’s soon.’”
By the time she received her transplant, her kidney and liver disease had severely worsened. Her liver had swelled to four times its normal size and the cysts on her diseased organs had begun to burst.
According to the L.A. Times, when Irvine sued UCI she was shocked to learn that the hospital had turned down 38 livers and 57 kidneys that were offered in her name. Although the 51-year-old mother settled with UCI earlier this year for an undisclosed amount, her lawsuit prompted the federal inquiry that lead to the hospital’s decertification.
While Irvine had survived her ordeal, many others were not as fortunate. Some 32 patients died while waiting liver transplants from UCI. According to federal records, between August 2004 and July 2005, UCI received 122 liver offers but transplanted only 12.
Now comes word that nine families whose relatives died while waiting for liver transplants have filed wrongful death lawsuits claiming the transplant program at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center accepted new patients when hospital officials knew they didn’t have the ability to perform transplants.
The combined lawsuits were filed in Orange County Superior Court and name the University of California, Irvine Medical Center, staff doctors, the former head of the transplant program, and the University of California regents as defendants.