More Problems for California’s Transplant Programs: Is USC Next in Line for Transplant Lawsuits?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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USC University Hospital, a private hospital owned by the for-profit Tenet Healthcare Corporation, is the third Southern California hospital to come under scrutiny for its liver-transplant program since 2005. The program at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles and the University of California at Irvine (UCI) facility in Orange County were suspended in September and November of 2005. (See USC Liver Transplant Program under Investigation: Third California Hospital Faces Review for more information.) Each time an organ transplant program is closed, all the patients on the program’s waiting list have to be transferred to another program and given a new position on that program’s list. This is a complicated procedure where mistakes can be made.

News reports now claim that more than 25 lawsuits have been filed against UCI and its staff because patients were forced to wait years for liver transplants but were never told that the hospital was turning away 90% of the livers offered to it for transplant because it had no full-time liver-transplant surgeon on the staff. One early lawsuit was filed by the widow of a man who died waiting for a liver at UCI and a married couple who waited 6 years for a liver for the wife at UCI, before transferring to a program at a Chicago hospital where a successful transplant was performed. That suit alleged not only wrongful death but fraud and misrepresentation on the part of the hospital. Other news reports indicate that suits were filed on behalf of several other families whose relatives died waiting for a liver transplant.

Concerns have been raised about the liver-transplant program at USC University Hospital because the death rate for patients receiving liver transplants is twice what it should be according to the statistics of the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. The Registry reviews various factors, such as the health of the transplant recipients, and estimates how many patients should survive. In the last statistical period, 38 USC patients died within one year of their transplant operations, 19 more than what the Registry would otherwise have predicted.

Though Dr. Rick Selby, head of the USC transplant program, defends his program, Dr. Goran Klintmalm, director of the Baylor Regional Transplant Institute, was quoted in a news report as saying, “When this happens, what comes to my mind is essentially a question of what the hell is going on?” The national average rate for surviving one year after a liver transplant is 86.6%, while USC patients have had a survival rate of 75.8%.

At least one widower of a USC patient has come forward to claim that her husband should not have died. Cheryl Rader’s husband John Rader, 64, died from a post-transplant infection three months after his transplant operation. Rader was one of the patients transferred to another program when the UCI liver transplant program was suspended. Steven Stone, 55, who suffers from hepatitis C, is transferring out of the USC program. He claims that the social worker who convinced him to go on the list at USC made the program “sound like it was one of the top.” But the survival rate for USC patients has been steadily decreasing since at least 2002.

For more information about this and other liver transplant investigations in California, see USC’s Liver Transplant Patients Show Low Survival Rate and USC Liver Transplant Program under Investigation: Third California Hospital Faces Review. For a free evaluation of your personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice case, you can fill out our case evaluation form.

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