U. California Hospitals May Face New Transplant Regulations

Daily Bruin
University of California Los Angeles

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — Responding to problems that have caused three California organ transplant programs to close in the past year, California lawmakers stressed the need for better regulation of organ transplant programs at a hearing Tuesday.
But University of California officials said that with nothing definite proposed, it is not yet possible to know how such laws may affect UC hospitals and transplant centers.

The UCLA Medical Center has a transplant program, but it has not seen the type of problems that other institutions have, and the impact new regulations might have on the program is currently unclear.

The Assembly Health Committee, a group that oversees medical practices statewide, said the state may need to consider toughening its organ transplant laws in order to prevent patients from being placed in programs with low survival rates or inadequate staff. One proposed regulation, for example, would be to institute fines against hospitals for failing to meet standards of quality.

In making their decision, members of the Assembly Health Committee cited transplant problems that led to the closure of UCI Medical Center in Orange, St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, and Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. They also noted concerns regarding USC University Hospital in Los Angeles.

Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka, said the hearing was “a call to action at all levels to make improvements to the system and to restore faith in the organ procurement and transplantation system,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Though lawmakers say legislation is needed, definite reform plans have not yet been drawn out, leaving UC officials unsure as to how such legislation may affect the UC’s hospitals and other medical programs.

“Without something that is actually there, it’s hard to say how it would affect us,” said Dale Tate, a spokeswoman for UCLA Health Sciences.

She added that UCLA already thoroughly regulates its organ transplant system.

“We do a good job of overseeing our own programs,” Tate said.
But the problems at other programs in the state have led to concerns about how far institutions can adequately regulate themselves.

UCI Medical Center terminated its program after federal officials from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid withdrew their certification in November 2005. Officials at the United Network for Organ Sharing and the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration claimed that UCI had misled them about its program by never bringing on a doctor as a full-time surgeon. More than 30 people died waiting for a liver at UCI during 2004 and 2005.

St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles closed its doors after its doctors were found to have bypassed over 50 patients on the hospital’s transplant waiting list. Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco shut down after the HMO improperly transferred hundreds of patients to a new program, resulting in delays for many transplant patients.

Other colleges and universities have also been affected. USC University Hospital’s liver transplant program has one of the highest death rates in the nation, with twice as many patients as expected dying after surgery, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.

Still, some health experts stressed that most transplant programs in California are solid.

“If your concern is that this is rampant behavior, I assure you it’s not,” said William Lawrence, director of patient affairs for the United Network for Organ Sharing, according to the Los Angeles Times.