Texas hospital halts liver and kidney transplants amid claims doctor denied patients organs | US healthcare

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A prominent hospital in Houston has halted its liver and kidney transplant programs after officials said one of its doctors secretly manipulated records to make some of his patients ineligible to receive new livers.

Memorial Hermann-Texas medical center said it discovered “a pattern of irregularities” with donor acceptance criteria after an investigation found problems with information entered into a database used to match patients awaiting a liver transplant.

The “irregularities” were limited to liver transplants, the hospital said. But the medical center decided that both liver and kidney transplants should be halted because the programs share the same leadership.

“Inappropriate changes … effectively inactivated the candidates on the liver transplant waiting list,” the hospital said in a statement published on Thursday in the Houston Chronicle. “Subsequently, these patients did not/were not able to receive organ donation offers while inactive.”

The New York Times identified the doctor in question as Dr J Steve Bynon Jr, a surgeon at the University of Texas health science center at Houston who has been contracted to lead Memorial Hermann’s abdominal transplant program since 2011. Bynon has “extensive experience in liver transplantation performing over 800 procedures in his career”, according to his biography on the hospital website.

The hospital said that a doctor in its liver transplant program had admitted to changing patient records, in effect denying them transplants, the New York Times reported. When contacted by the newspaper, Bynon neither confirmed nor denied that he had admitted to altering patient records.

UTHealth Houston issued a statement to the media that defended Bynon as “an exceptionally talented and caring physician, and a pioneer in abdominal organ transplantation”.

“Our faculty and staff members, including Dr Bynon, are assisting with the inquiry into Memorial Hermann’s liver transplant program and are committed to addressing and resolving any findings identified by this process,” the statement said.

Helming a relatively small liver transplant program, Memorial Hermann has seen an increasing number of patients who have died while waiting for a liver, according to the Associated Press. Four patients died or became too ill for a transplant in 2021, 11 in 2022, 14 in 2023, and five so far in 2024, it said.

The hospital has not said how long it planned for its liver and kidney transplant programs to remain shuttered. At the time it shut down its programs, Memorial Hermann had 38 patients on the liver program transplant list and 346 patients on the kidney transplant list, it said.

“Over the past two weeks, we have been actively working with all [affected] patients, families and caregivers from the liver and the kidney transplant programs,” it said in a statement to USA Today. “Our primary priority is ensuring continuity of compassionate care for patients who were on the transplant program lists at the hospital.”

The US Department of Health and Human Services said it is investigating the allegations. “We are committed to protecting patient safety and equitable access to organ transplant services for all patients,” it said in statement. “HHS will pursue all appropriate enforcement and compliance actions … to protect the safety and integrity of the organ procurement and transplantation system.”

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