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Hospital suspends transplants after allegations

/ Source: The Associated Press

One of California’s largest organ transplant centers has suspended its liver program after determining that doctors improperly arranged a liver transplant for a man not among the highest-priority patients, officials said.

Staff at St. Vincent Medical Center then falsified documents to cover up the alleged wrongdoing, hospital President and Chief Executive Gus Valdespino told the Los Angeles Times in Tuesday’s editions.

The case involves a Saudi national who was 52nd on a transplant list that covers much of Southern California and is based on who is sickest and who has been waiting longest. St. Vincent officials said the liver should have gone to a higher priority patient.

The transplant was done in 2003 and the Saudi Arabia Embassy paid $339,000 for the operation — up to 30 percent more than what the hospital would normally receive from insurance companies and government programs, Valdespino said.

The suspension of the liver program at St. Vincent means that lifesaving transplants could be delayed for 75 patients who are on the center’s liver waiting list.

Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr., director of St. Vincent’s liver transplant program, and Dr. Hector C. Ramos, the assistant director, are no longer affiliated with the program, hospital officials said. They declined to say whether the men had been fired.

A lawyer for Lopez told the Times that he did not have enough information to comment. An attorney for Ramos, who was paid separately for his services, told the Times her client did nothing wrong. She said the doctor believed the patient was an impoverished Bedouin and didn’t know if he would be paid for his work.

The hospital, west of downtown Los Angeles, notified the state Department of Health Services about the case Monday, and agency spokeswoman Lea Brooks said inspectors would immediately investigate.

St. Vincent’s directors became aware of the problem this month while answering routine questions from auditors at the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit group that runs the national transplant system, Valdespino said.