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Originally Posted At:
May 3, 2006

State Launches Probe Of Kaiser Transplant Program


Anna Werner

(CBS 5) SAN FRANCISCO State regulators confirmed Wednesday that they have launched an investigation into Kaiser Permanente's kidney transplant program after a CBS 5 investigation uncovered numerous accusations of disorganization and delays that may have affected patients' health.

"We do take these types of allegations very seriously," said Lynne Randolph with the State's Department of Managed Health Care. "Certainly it doesn't sound like the program was doing what it was intended to do."

That's the state's reaction to problems with Kaiser's kidney transplant program first reported by CBS 5 Investigates.

When Kaiser started its transplant program in 2004, the HMO said it would perform kidney transplants for the some 2,000 Kaiser patients on the waiting list, instead of sending patients to other hospitals as in the past.

But patients like Corra Mayo think their care was delayed.

"It's going on seven, eight years," she says.

And CBS 5 Investigates found insiders are also concerned: one doctor, Dr. James Chon, sent a 12-page letter to Kaiser's physician-in-chief detailing problems he saw in the program, including "numerous resignations" and other internal issues, which the doctor called "very serious and potentially explosive problems."

The center is disorganized, says David Merlin, a former program administrator. He says the problems include "not getting timely appointments, not getting call-backs, not getting prescriptions refilled, not getting surgery scheduled promptly."

Merlin believes the result is transplant patients get lost in the shuffle.

"Those patients were not contacted for long periods of time," he said.

CBS 5 asked if he was alleging that these people were neglected and that patients may have suffered harm as a result. His answer: "I think negligence is the appropriate term."

And now a CBS 5 analysis of national transplant data suggests even more troubling results: in 2005 when Kaiser performed 56 transplants successfully, more than twice as many people -- 116 -- died waiting on the transplant list.

The exact opposite occurred for kidney transplant patients statewide; more than 1,800 received transplants successfully, but only 866 died, less than half.

And the number of transplants completed at Kaiser also was low compared to state averages: less than 3 percent of people on Kaiser's waiting list got transplants compared to an average 12 percent of people on other lists statewide.

"That isn't a complete look at the process," says Kaiser San Francisco executive Mike Alexander.

Alexander disputes the numbers and says the program is doing well.

CBS 5: "Are you absolutely convinced that in the switchover of the program that there are not patients who may have suffered harm or death because of waiting?"

Alexander: "I personally don't know of any patient that occurred to."

But Merlin believes the problems are urgent, "This problem needs to be fixed now, today. Either slow the program or shut it down."

Randolph agrees, "That is very serious, and that is why we are moving as quickly as we possibly can."

( MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)