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Troubled Transplant Center's Plans OKd

A national oversight group approves L.A.'s St. Vincent's reforms, but sanctions remain.

June 30, 2006|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — The board of the national transplant oversight group Thursday approved St. Vincent Medical Center's plan to fix problems with its transplant center, but the group did not lift its sanctions against the Los Angeles hospital.

Meeting in Atlanta, board members of the United Network for Organ Sharing said they were satisfied with St. Vincent's commitment to increase staffing, improve oversight and restore accountability after a scandal that forced the closure of the hospital's liver transplant program last fall.

St. Vincent also agreed to pay $412,000 to cover administrative and legal costs incurred by the network, a government contractor responsible for ensuring the safety and equity of the nation's transplant system. Hospital officials said Thursday they have spent far more than $1 million on improvements.

The liver program was halted in September after officials admitted that in 2003 its doctors improperly arranged for a liver transplant to a Saudi Arabian national using an organ intended for a higher-priority St. Vincent patient. Staff members then falsified records to cover up the situation, officials have said.

The network designated St. Vincent a "member not in good standing" in March, marking the first time it had taken a public disciplinary action against a transplant center in the United States.

The group required the hospital to send letters that detail the disciplinary action to about 4,000 patients who are awaiting transplants or receiving care. In addition, the sanction prohibited hospital officials or staff from serving on the network's board or committees.

St. Vincent spokesman Paul Silva said the hospital was "very pleased" by the board's action. The hospital has hired more registered nurses, transplant coordinators and data technicians. St. Vincent continues to operate kidney, pancreas and heart transplant programs.

"There's just a lot of double and triple checking going on to make sure everything is of the highest integrity and highest quality," Silva said. "What we always wanted to do is let people know that we were taking this seriously. We've taken it seriously from Day One."

When the network announced its sanction in March, the hospital said it planned to file a lawsuit to block it. But Silva said Thursday a courtroom battle would not happen.

"We're on the right track to get this program where it needs to be," he said. "A lawsuit at this point does not seem productive."

The network declined to release a copy of the corrective plan, but officials said it was longer than 100 pages, including attachments. Officials also said they would not lift their sanction against St. Vincent until officials could prove they were following through on their commitments.

Network officials said that the corrective plan had been in the works since earlier this year, and that a main focus was on institutional accountability. The plan gives the hospital's chief executive and board more oversight of the transplant programs rather than allowing them to operate autonomously, as they did in the past.

Some network board members say they were not convinced the hospital had fully reformed after the scandal.

"I'm a little bit cynical of the notion that they really have changed the culture of the institution" after such a short time, said board member Thomas Beyersdorf of Michigan.

The hospital named a new chief executive just last month.

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