Ralph Cygan, CEO of the UC Irvine Medical Center, resigned on Jan. 31 amid a series of scandals taking a toll on the hospital and the university.
Cygan was put on paid administrative leave in November 2005 by Chancellor Michael Drake, while an investigation into the liver transplant program was being conducted by a blue-ribbon committee.
Maureen Zehntner, interim medical center CEO, will continue to serve in Cygan’s position until a new CEO is recruited.
The new CEO will be the UCIMC’s fourth in 11 years.
‘It is my hope that a change in leadership will help the hospital move forward and assist everyone in focusing their efforts on providing our patients with the highest quality health care,’ Cygan said in a statement last week.
Cygan left his post as information came out that showed he was aware of problems with staffing and patient survival rates at the liver transplant program years before it was decertified.
Although Cygan left the position during a tumultuous time for the UCIMC, Drake commended him for his past accomplishments.
‘While accepting Dr. Cygan’s resignation, I want to note that he has been devoted to UCI for nearly three decades, and is credited with many important contributions,’ Drake said in a statement.
Cygan’s resignation occurred the same day Drake announced changes in the health sciences administration at UCI.
One of his goals is to assure high-quality patient care by an ‘administrative restructuring designed to increase oversight, accountability and alignment of the UCIMC, the School of Medicine and the resignation of Dr. Ralph Cygan.’
As part of the restructuring, Drake called for a new position, vice chancellor for health sciences, that will oversee both the medical center and School of Medicine. This position will report directly to the chancellor’s office.
A search committee is set to be appointed within four weeks.
Thomas Cesario, the dean of the School of Medicine, will continue his position and will report to the new vice chancellor once the seat has been filled.
In a statement made last week, UC President Robert Dynes said, ‘I fully support Drake’s actions to increase oversight and accountability at the [UCIMC] and the liver transplant program in particular. We are responsible for ensuring that each and every one of our patients is receiving the best health care and these actions help ensure strong and effective oversight and accountability at the center.’
Soon after the liver transplant program was found to be performing below expectations by rejecting liver donations while waiting-list patients died, Drake initiated a blue-ribbon committee to conduct an investigation into the program, which will culminate in a report being issued.
The report is due in mid-February and will outline ‘what happened and why it happened,’ according to Meredith Khachigian, a member of the blue-ribbon committee.
Although the actions being taken by Drake and the rest of the university are a step in the right direction, patients and families who suffered because of the program’s failures still say that they are at a tremendous loss.
Larry Eisenberg, the Irvine attorney representing the dozens of victims in a class-action lawsuit against UCIMC, hopes that UCI ‘can effectuate real change in management and oversight so the true goal of proper patient care is realized. The existing claims need to be dealt with and time will tell if the public image of UCI can be restored.’
Eisenberg also represented the victims of a scandal that unfolded 10 years ago when doctors at UCI’s fertility clinic were found to have stolen eggs from patients and implanted them in other women.
After negotiating a $10 million settlement, Eisenberg claims that UCI ‘had a unique opportunity to close a dark chapter in the history of the university.’
‘For whatever reason, UCI did not seize that opportunity,’ Eisenberg said. ‘They allowed unbridled growth and prestige to cloud their judgment which caused the tragedy at the liver transplant program.’
UCIMC spokespersons could not be reached by press time.
The UCIMC is also facing criticism for employing doctors without proper credentials, including some of their resident cardiologists.
Other programs have also been under scrutiny, including the kidney transplant program and the dermatology program.
According to a review by the Los Angeles Times, the kidney transplant program accepted 8.7 percent of the kidney offers for its patients between July 2000 and July 2005, compared to median annual acceptance rates nationwide of 25.9 percent to 31.2 percent.