Hospitals Accused of
Skewing Liver Transplant Priority List
By MIKE ROBINSON
The Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) - Federal officials claim three Chicago hospitals
exaggerated the seriousness of the conditions of some patients
so they could get liver transplants sooner.
Federal officials and a bioethics expert said they know of
no other case where the government accused hospitals of using
fraud to increase the eligibility of patients for organ transplants.
According to prosecutors, one patient who was certified as
being seven days from death was found in a hospital lobby,
dressed in a clown costume, putting on a show to drum up support
for a blood drive.
``By falsely diagnosing patients and placing them in intensive
care to make them appear more sick than they were, these three
highly regarded medical centers made patients eligible for
liver transplants ahead of others,'' U.S. Attorney Patrick
J. Fitzgerald said.
The three institutions are the University of Chicago Hospitals,
Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the University of Illinois
Medical Center at Chicago.
There was no allegation anyone died for lack of a transplant
because some patients were made to look more urgently in need
than they were. But some doctors said it was possible.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement
that ``there is no room for fraud when it comes to deciding
which patient receives an organ.''
``No one should play leapfrog with peoples' lives,'' she
The case stems from a whistleblower suit unsealed for the
first time Monday but that was filed in 1999 by Dr. Raymond
Pollak, a University of Illinois Medical Center surgeon.
The other institutions were eventually added to the suit.
The University of Chicago immediately agreed to settle with
the federal government and the state attorney general's office
for $115,000. Northwestern settled with the federal government
for $23,587. The state attorney general's office wasn't involved
in Northwestern's settlement.
Neither hospital acknowledged any wrongdoing.
The state and federal governments have asked the U.S. District
Court to force the University of Illinois Medical Center to
pay up to $3 million in damages plus possible fines. That
institution has not settled so far.
``Our physicians acted at all times with the utmost concern
for the welfare of patients very ill with liver disease,''
said University of Illinois spokesman Mark Rosati.
John Easton, a spokesman for the University of Chicago Hospitals,
said that ``contrary to the government's allegations, the
hospitals believe that all decisions about patient care were
Northwestern Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Kelly Sullivan
issued a statement saying the hospital agreed with the need
to investigate the allegations. But she added that the institution
disagreed with the government's ``suggestion that intensive
care unit coverage of two critically ill patients, comatose
and suffering from liver failure, was unnecessary.''
There is a shortage of livers available for transplant, and
only the most seriously ill patients are eligible. The United
Network for Organ Sharing, set up by the federal government,
decides the criteria for who is sick enough for a transplant.
But money is also a factor in the decision.
Hospitals must perform 12 transplants each year for two years
with a survival rate of 75 percent or better to be eligible
for Medicare and Medicaid payments to reimburse the cost of
Federal officials said one motive on the part of the hospitals
was to make sure that they had performed enough operations