Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, November 11, 2005

UCI Lets 32 Patients Die

The University of California Irvine Medical Center (UCI) in Orange has let 32 transplant patients languish and die, telling them organs were not available while the hospital turned away perfectly fine organs.

Regional organ procurement services had sent over more than 122 livers in a one-year period, but UCI only transplanted 12 -- including two that went to the same patient because the first operation was botched.

UCI told waiting patients the organs weren't good enough, but the organs subsequently were transplanted into patients lucky enough to be at other hospitals, and all went well for them.

UCI's excuse once busted: Its program didn't have enough staff or skill to perform the procedures. Just how lame that excuse is comes across in this quote from the hospital's CEO: "However disappointing this is, our first commitment is to our patients."

Which leads us to UCI's sin: Not caring enough about its patients to tell them to get the heck out of UCI and onto a waiting list at a hospital that actually cared.

Instead, UCI promoted its liver transplant program while it let patients die, and is still promoting it today, after the story broke. Expect this copy to disappear from its Web site later today:
Internationally respected physicians and a talented team of medical professionals are affiliated with the medical center's bone marrow, kidney and liver transplant programs. The UCI/UCLA Liver Transplant program is the only program in Orange County that utilizes the ‘split liver’ concept, i.e., using one donor liver for two or more patients when appropriate. As the source of some of the country's most innovative medical research and treatment programs, UCI Medical Center is a unique and valuable asset to the Orange County community.
The story only broke because the LATimes sued under the Freedom of Information Act for a federal report on the situation. The feds investigated after receiving complaints from a woman who waited from 1988 to 2002 for a transplant:
The woman, who ultimately received a transplant at another hospital, discovered only through a lawsuit that UCI had turned down more than 90 organs offered for her.
Hospital regulators were aware UCI wasn't not performing enough procedures to continue to qualify as a transplant center, but they did nothing. They are culpable in the deaths of the 32 who died while waiting.

Here's the first day story, and today's follow-up. This series shows how good a newspaper the LAT could be if it would get off its liberal high horse and do more real reporting.