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University Removes Transplant Director

Times Staff Writer

UC San Diego Medical Center has removed the director of its abdominal transplant program, saying he helped mislead regulators about problems that forced the closure of the liver transplant program at UCI Medical Center, a sister institution 90 miles away.

The move widens the fallout from a transplant scandal at UCI, where the medical center’s chief executive resigned this week under pressure.

The San Diego hospital said in a written statement that Dr. Marquis Hart, who worked part-time at UCI, “was found to have participated” in providing inaccurate information in July and December 2004 to a government contractor that oversees transplantation nationally.

Hart, along with UC Irvine officials, reassured officials with the United Network for Organ Sharing that he would work full-time at UCI to care for transplant patients, but had never left UCSD’s staff.

“The university has concluded that UCI representatives were not wholly accurate in describing the surgical coverage for the UCI liver transplant program,” the statement said.

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Between August 2004 and December 2005, UCI had no full-time liver transplant surgeon and turned down scores of organs for patients on its waiting list. In some cases, no doctor was available to perform transplants.

In 2004 and 2005, more than 30 patients died waiting for new livers.

In UC San Diego’s statement, medical center Chief Executive Richard J. Liekweg cited a review by the University of California Office of the General Counsel that faulted UCI officials and Hart. He said Hart would remain a transplant surgeon in good standing at the San Diego hospital but without administrative responsibilities.

“We must ensure that the director of our transplant program has the full confidence and support of the public and the regulatory agencies,” Liekweg said. “In light of these findings, we have determined it is in the best interest of our program to appoint new leadership.”

UC officials declined to release the general counsel’s review Wednesday, citing ongoing investigations and lawsuits.

Hart could not be reached for comment. In a letter last week to the United Network for Organ Sharing, Hart’s lawyer said his client “strongly objects to any characterization that his judgment was poor or his intentions deceitful.”

Attorney Robert Rose of San Diego wrote that Hart was trying to merge the transplant programs at the two medical centers, but UCI did not follow through.

When Hart told the United Network in July 2004 that he intended to commit 100% to the UCI program, “he reasonably expected the two programs to be combined,” Rose wrote.

“He intended to move near the Irvine Medical Center, but had no idea then that UCI would not honor” its promise to pay his relocation expenses, Rose wrote. “He tried to make his proposal a reality, but was not supported.”

Hart is the second person this week to be relieved of administrative duties because of the problems in UCI’s liver program, which was closed in November under pressure from federal officials.

On Tuesday, UCI announced that its medical center chief executive, Dr. Ralph Cygan, had resigned. UCI Chancellor Dr. Michael V. Drake apologized for a range of recent failings at the Orange hospital and indicated that other personnel changes are possible as a broad investigation continues.

The allegations that UCI officials misled the United Network first surfaced in a December letter from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is investigating lapses in the national transplantation system.

The letter cites a July 2004 meeting at which regulators say they were led to believe that Hart would be the full-time surgeon at UCI. The meeting was attended by Hart, Cygan and Dr. Thomas C. Cesario, UCI Medical School dean.

Cesario remains in his post and could not be reached on Wednesday. UC San Diego would not release details of the alleged misstatements.

UCI officials declined to discuss the other school’s action.

On Tuesday, UCI medical center’s acting Chief Executive Maureen Zehntner led a four-person delegation in Chicago to discuss the liver transplant scandal with a committee of the United Network. The meeting was closed to the media, and regulators would not discuss what happened there.

Hart joined the faculty in 1991 and became a transplant program leader two years later, a hospital spokeswoman said. He graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and had surgical residencies at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, according to his university biography.


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