USC Liver Transplant Program under Investigation: Third California Hospital Faces Review

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 16, 2021Fact Checked

USC University Hospital, a private hospital located in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles, is being investigated by the California Department of Health Services for a higher-than-expected death rate amongst the liver transplant patients at the facility. Approximately twice as many patients as expected died within one year of receiving liver transplants at USC University Hospital. The Department of Health Services announced the investigation July 12, 2006, after the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, the group that analyses transplant data for the federal government, released its latest statistics. USC risks losing its certification to receive reimbursement from California’s Medi-Cal program. Medi-Cal requires an 80% one-year-survival rate for liver-transplant patients, and the survival rate for USC patients was 75.8%, the fifth lowest in the nation. Lea Brooks, spokesperson for the Department of Health Services, said the Department is concerned about these statistics.

USC will also be inspected by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is conducting a review of all federally-funded liver transplant programs after two other California facilities failed to meet federal standards in 2005. CMS is the agency responsible for certifying hospitals to receive reimbursement for treatment of Medicare and Medicaid patients. The federal program demands a 77% survival rate for liver transplant patients for the hospital program to qualify for certification.

Dr. John R. Lake, head of liver transplantation at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and the chair of the liver and intestinal organ transplantation committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) predicted in a recent L.A. Times article that UNOS will also investigate. UNOS is the federal contractor responsible for overseeing organ transplant programs.

In 2005, St. Vincent’s hospital in Los Angeles became the first liver transplant program to be sanctioned by CMS. CMS withdrew federal certification for reimbursement on September 30, 2005 and the hospital suspended the program. That investigation began when CMS discovered that a 52-year-old patient on a regional list was given a liver in 2003, while the patient who was at the top of the list was removed from the list, but told that he was still eligible for a liver. The investigation that followed this report revealed that St. Vincent’s program failed to qualify for federal funding because of eight conditions unrelated to the scandal, including inadequate record keeping and inadequate review of candidates for liver transplants. In June 2006, CMS approved St. Vincent’s plan for restructuring the program but declined to certify the program again until the hospital shows it is following through on the plan.

In November 2005, another Southern California liver-transplant center in Orange County run by the University of California at Irvine (UCI) was suspended after a UNOS inspection. UNOS initiated that inspection after a complaint from a patient who had been waiting for years to receive a liver, and the inspection showed seven deficiencies in the program. UCI had allegedly turned down most of the livers offered to it for transplantation because of a shortage of surgeons, but failed to tell the patients that livers were being refused. The inspection showed that a one-year survival rate for liver-transplant patients at UCI was only 68–70%, and that 30 patients died in a two-year period while waiting for liver transplants.

For more information about this and other liver transplant investigations in California, see USC’s Liver Transplant Patients Show Low Survival Rate and More Problems for California’s Transplant Programs: Is USC Next in Line for Transplant Lawsuits?. For a free evaluation of your personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice case, you can fill out our case evaluation form. Go to to find a personal injury attorney, wrongful death lawyer, or medical malpractice attorney.

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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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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
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