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UCI Misled Regulators on Transplants, Review Says

Times Staff Writer

A review commissioned by the University of California confirmed allegations that officials at UCI Medical Center had misled regulators about the hospital’s now-shuttered liver transplant program, according to a document released Tuesday.

The university released a 1 1/2-page summary of the findings, but would not release the report, citing attorney-client privilege. The investigation was conducted by Los Angeles attorney James T. Duff, a former federal prosecutor.

Duff could not be reached for comment.

The wrongdoing alleged in the document stemmed from UCI’s efforts to keep its transplant program open after the departure of its full-time surgeon in July 2004.

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At a meeting that month in Chicago, hospital officials told a panel of the United Network for Organ Sharing, a private group that oversees the national transplant system, that they had retained a transplant surgeon to work at UCI full time. In fact, that surgeon, Dr. Marquis Hart, was the director of abdominal transplantation at UC San Diego and worked only part time at the UCI hospital in Orange, some 90 miles away.

UCI was represented at the meeting by Dr. Ralph Cygan, who at the time was the hospital’s chief executive, along with Hart, Dr. Thomas C. Cesario, medical school dean, and Gail McGory, UCI transplant administrator.

Cygan resigned last week as the hospital’s chief executive. UC San Diego also demoted Hart for his role in the matter. Hart’s attorney has said his client did nothing wrong; Cygan said in a statement last week that his decision was “in the best interests of the medical center and our patients.”

The UC investigation found “no evidence” that Cesario “was involved in or understood the significance of any decision about communications” with the regulatory body, according to the summary released Tuesday.

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UCI spokeswoman Susan Menning said Cesario “was not a major participant in the meeting. He was more there to show support for things that were more actively in development by the others.”

The UC summary also cites a December 2004 letter from Hart to the United Network saying he had been “physically on site at UCI.” Although the letter said Hart remained involved in the San Diego program, it “did not accurately reflect that Dr. Hart was not always on site at UCI during the prior four months and that he remained very much involved in the transplant program at UCSD Medical Center.”

UCI was forced to shut its liver transplant program last November after The Times reported that more than 30 patients had died on its waiting list in 2004 and 2005, even as the hospital turned down scores of organs that might have saved some of them. It had also operated without a full-time surgeon for more than a year, relying on part-time help from Hart and another UCSD surgeon, Dr. Ajai Khanna.


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