In an effort to investigate the causes of the failures of the liver transplant program at the UC Irvine Medical Center, Chancellor Michael Drake has formed a blue ribbon committee to head an investigation into the program.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services cut funding support for the liver transplant program after an investigation revealed that dozens of patients on the wait list for liver at UCIMC died while the hospital turned down dozens of donated organs.
As a result of the cut for funding and decertification, UCIMC voluntarily shut down the program. UCIMC CEO Ralph Cygan has been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation and will not return until completion of a report by the committee.
Drake expressed his support for the investigation and his desire that the appropriate actions are made.
‘The panel will have the full support of my office and a clear mandate to produce a candid, in-depth analysis of the medical and managerial decisions that led to the center’s closing,’ Drake said in a press release last week. ‘Following receipt of that report, when all facts are in hand, we will take further actions as necessary to ensure that our patients receive the best possible medical care.’
Members of the blue-ribbon committee include: Meredith Khachigan, former chair of the UC Board of Regents; Haile T. Debas, executive director of global health sciences and chancellor dean emeritus of UC San Francisco; Steven Wartman, president of the Association of Academic Health Centers and former executive vice president for academic and health affairs, dean of the medical school and professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio; Kenneth Shine, executive vice chancellor for health affairs, University of Texas and president emeritus of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies; and Ken Janada, UCI professor of chemistry and chair of the Irvine Division of the Academic Senate.
Khachigian is hopeful that the blue-ribbon committee will be able to produce an effective and efficient report of the liver transplant program based on a thorough investigation.
‘I’m hoping that we can do a thorough review of what happened and why it happened,’ Khachigian said.
Khachigian noted the chancellor’s request to conduct the investigation ‘as expeditiously as possible.’
At this point, Khachigian claims that the only thing preventing the committee from completing the investigation in 90 days would be other committee members’ schedules.
Only two of the five committee members are from Southern California.
‘We just want to approach the issue with all parties involved … and let people see what is happening with a clear eye,’ Khachigian said. ‘All these facts are allegations, and you never know something until you really get into it.’
The liver program scandal has already resulted in one lawsuit against UCI, and it is likely that other legal actions will take place in the future.
Audrey Degenhardt, Andrea Razetto and Carlos Razetto filed a joint lawsuit on Nov. 14 against the UCIMC, alleging that officials failed to inform waitlisted patients that the medical center did not have a resident liver transplant surgeon and that surgeons neglected liver transplant patients in favor of performing more financially lucrative medical procedures.
Degenhardt’s husband died in April 2004 after five years on the liver transplant waiting list. Andrea Razetto spent six years on the UCIMC waiting list, but she ultimately received a transplant at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The recent charges against the UCIMC are just the latest in a series of embarrassing incidents at the UCIMC and School of Medicine, both housed under UCI Health Sciences.
In May 1995, three fertility doctors at UCI’s Center for Reproductive Health were accused of conducting research on human subjects without consent and prescribing fertility drugs that had not yet been approved by the government.
In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration discovered that a research lab at UCI’s Chao Cancer Center had charged patients for experimental drugs without authorization and solicited donations from patients being considered as candidates for clinical trials.
In 1998, Darryl See resigned from the Medical Center after using blood samples for research without authorization and mistreating laboratory animals.
In 2000, Christopher Brown, the director of UCI’s willed body program, was fired for selling parts from donated cadavers, including spines to a school in Arizona.
In 2004, cancer researcher and head of the epidemiology division of School of Medicine Hoda Anton-Culver was accused of misspending $2.3 million in state and federal funds that was intended for cancer research.