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October 3, 2006 > Kidney backlog

Kidney backlog

(San Francisco Business Times), Sept. 29_ About half the patients from Kaiser Permanente's troubled Northern California kidney transplant program have been transferred to medical centers at University of California, San Francisco, and University of California, Davis, a pace critics contend is too slow and puts patients at further risk. Meanwhile, few transplants have been performed since regulators ordered Kaiser to begin transferring transplant patients from its error-plagued internal program on May 12 -- and 139 patients awaiting the procedure have died since then, according to officials at the state Department of Managed Health Care, which is monitoring the process.

As of September 19, according to the agency, 985 of roughly 1,930 patients on the Kaiser waiting list for kidney transplants had been transferred to the care of the UC hospitals. Completed transfers include virtually all high-priority patients, those most desperately in need of a new organ. Transfers of roughly 815 more patients are in the works, with the transfer process yet to start for about 125 more. In addition to the patients who died, about 100 others did not qualify for transfer. They're either too sick, can't be located or already had transplants performed elsewhere.

Agency director Cindy Ehnes said it will take until year-end for the rest of the transfers to be completed, due primarily to the speed at which the two UC medical centers can complete the necessary evaluation and testing of patients. "I don't want to place any blame on UCSF or UC Davis," she said. "They didn't plan on this, and they've really stood up to the plate."

Critics don't expect the process to be completed until early 2007 and say the delays are putting more patients at risk. David Merlin, the former administrator of the Kaiser transplant program who says he was fired for raising red flags within the program, fears the process is still moving too slowly.

"They probably aren't going to get everyone transferred out until February, or maybe later," he said. "These patients are helpless, and they're still not being taken care of."
Matthew Schiffgens, Kaiser's designated spokesman on this issue, challenged the Department of Managed Health Care's report of 139 deaths since May. He said that total includes deaths going back to 2004.

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