Monday, December 26, 2005

Nine families sue UCI's liver transplant program over deaths

Nine families whose relatives died while waiting for liver transplants have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against an Orange County hospital that last month suspended its transplant program. The lawsuit filed Friday names the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center as a defendant as well as staff doctors, the former head of the transplant program and the University of California regents. It seeks unspecified general damages and wrongful-death damages for the loss of companionship and earnings.

"The interesting part of this case that makes it novel and above a regular malpractice case is the fraud and misrepresentation that was presented by the liver transplant program," said attorney Larry Eisenberg, who filed the lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court. The program kept accepting new patients when officials knew they didn't have the ability to perform the transplants, Eisenberg said. The transplant program also failed to perform the minimum number of transplants required by federal regulations and did not have a full-time liver transplant surgeon on staff and lied about it to federal regulators, Eisenberg said.

A telephone call Friday to the UCI medical center was not immediately returned. University Chancellor Michael V. Drake shut down the liver transplant program Nov. 10 after a stinging report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was made public. The report found that UCI's program had a one-year survival rate of 68 percent to 70 percent between July 2001 and June 2004 - far below the federal requirement of 77 percent. More than 30 patients died while waiting for transplants over the past two years, according to federal data. The hospital, which operated Orange County's only liver transplant program, also performed far fewer than the 12 transplants per year required by the government for federal reimbursement, with as few as five transplants so far this year.

Eisenberg previously filed a lawsuit on behalf of the widow of a man who died in 2004 while waiting for a liver and a couple who waited six years for the wife to receive a liver at UCI before transferring to a Chicago hospital. That lawsuit was filed seeking class-action status to preserve the statute of limitations, Eisenberg said



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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