Houston hospital halts transplants as it investigates inappropriate changes to patient records

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A Houston hospital has temporarily stopped liver and kidney transplants after it says it learned one of its physicians altered patient records in a government database, which may have prevented them from getting new organs.
In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, the hospital said “inappropriate changes … effectively inactivated the candidates on the liver transplant waiting list.
We are committed to protecting patient safety and equitable access to organ transplant services for all patients,” the statement said.
Memorial Hermann did not confirm the name of the doctor under investigation.
Synder noted that while Memorial Hermann pre-transplant death rate was elevated, it was not as high as some others.
The hospital also said it was seeking to quickly reactivate its kidney transplant program under a different leadership structure.
Sears said she had been waiting six years for a kidney when the hospital called her on Tuesday to let her know it was temporarily shutting down the kidney transplant program.
Sears said the hospital said she could go to another program or wait for it to restart its kidney transplants.

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When a Houston hospital discovered that one of its doctors had changed patient records in a government database, potentially preventing them from receiving new organs, the hospital decided to temporarily halt liver and kidney transplants.

For patients added to a nationwide waitlist via Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, the hospital has confirmed that it is looking into “inappropriate changes” to the acceptance criteria for liver donors. Donor acceptance criteria include things like the weight and age of the candidate whose liver would be suitable for a particular transplant.

The hospital said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle that “inappropriate changes… effectively inactivated the candidates on the waiting list for liver transplants.”. These patients consequently did not receive offers to donate their organs while they were inactive. “.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, an investigation had been commissioned by a number of its divisions, including the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We are aware of how serious this accusation is. Currently, we are addressing this issue throughout the Department. We are dedicated to preserving patient safety and providing all patients with fair access to organ transplant services,” the statement read.

The company that maintains the transplant waiting list said in a written statement that it was unable to comment on an ongoing inquiry.

Patient safety is a top priority for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). In accordance with its bylaws, the OPTN is not permitted to discuss any prospective or current member organization review, according to the statement.

A Memorial Hermann representative stated that the doctor under investigation had been removed from leadership positions in the hospital’s liver and kidney transplant programs and that the investigation’s results would determine the doctor’s future status there.

The doctor’s name under investigation was not verified by Memorial Hermann.

On Thursday, the New York Times revealed that Dr. Steve Bynon Jr. was the doctor who altered the patient records, according to an unidentified official familiar with the inquiry. a transplant surgeon who had been in charge of the liver and kidney transplant teams. Bynon directed inquiries to his employer, UT Health Houston, when The Times called him on Thursday. According to the Times, Bynon did not claim to have changed the standards for donor acceptance.

On Friday, CNN contacted Bynon to request a statement, but they never got back.

Bynon’s employer, UT Health Houston, described him as “a pioneer in abdominal organ transplantation, as well as an exceptionally talented and caring physician” in a written statement that was sent to media outlets on Friday. “.

The statement stated, “Despite treating patients with higher-than-average acuity and disease complexity, Bynon’s survival rates and surgical outcomes are among the best in the nation, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.”.

“We are dedicated to addressing and resolving any findings identified by this process, and our faculty and staff members, including Dr. Bynon, are helping with the investigation into Memorial Hermann’s liver transplant program. “.

Bynon worked for almost twenty years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s transplant program before moving to Memorial Hermann. The UAB transplant waitlist has patient records, and as of Friday, according to Alicia Rohan, director of public relations at the university, there are no anomalies in those records, she informed CNN via email.

“What is allegedly done in Texas cannot be performed by a single doctor thanks to UAB processes. Our waitlisted candidates’ donor acceptance requirements are decided upon by a multidisciplinary team, and the system is managed collaboratively and is continuously reviewed, according to Rohan.

As a nurse practitioner at UAB who collaborated with Bynon, Cathy Ingram said she was taken aback by the accusations.

“Prof. She sent an email to CNN stating, “Bynon has devoted his life to saving lives and helping others.”. “In addition to being a talented surgeon, he is a compassionate individual. During the many years I worked with him, I saw nothing but integrity and compassion for other people. “.

According to data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR), while liver transplant patients at Memorial Hermann had above-average outcomes when compared with other programs nationally, a greater number of patients than anticipated have passed away while waiting on their list in recent years. The Registry’s director, Jon Synder, stated that Memorial Hermann had a pre-transplant death rate that was approximately 28% higher than expected during the period of July 2021 to June 2023, based on pre-transplant mortality rates at programs across the nation. However, the program saw 19 deaths during that time instead of the expected 14 deaths.

Though Memorial Hermann’s pre-transplant death rate was higher than some others, Synder pointed out that it was still not as high.

According to Memorial Hermann, the kidney and liver programs were halted because their leadership was the same, but the hospital only noticed abnormalities in patients who were waiting for new livers.

Additionally, the hospital announced that it was working to swiftly restart its kidney transplant program with a new management team.

Dr. Professor of bioethics at New York University Art Caplan stated that it is nearly hard to justify a doctor’s “inappropriate changes” to a patient’s medical record, and that it is particularly worrisome that patients might not be aware that they are no longer candidates for organ transplants.

It is necessary to notify you if someone is removed from the list for any reason so you can find another place and see if they will accept you, according to Caplan.

In order to go over their options, Memorial Hermann said it was getting in touch with each patient directly.

The 46-year-old Childress, Texas resident Mandy Sears was one of those patients.

At the age of 19, Sears’ kidneys failed as a result of cancer treatment she had received while still in her teens.

In 2003, she received her first transplant through Hermann, and she described the procedure as “wonderful.”. When her first kidney donor approached the end of its life in 2018, that brought her back to the same hospital.

When the hospital called Sears on Tuesday to inform her that the kidney transplant program would be temporarily suspended, she revealed that she had been waiting for a kidney for six years. The news, she said, was devastating.

According to Sears, she would get happy every time her phone rang, thinking it would be the good news that a donor had been found.

She stated, “I am aware that I will not be receiving a call as of right now.”.

According to Sears, the hospital told her to wait for kidney transplants to resume or enroll in another program. She says she worries about her status and doesn’t know what to do.

Sears remarked of the claims of altering patient records, “It makes me nervous.”. “Hopefully, there hasn’t been anything I can do for him. “.

She claims that in 2022, she received a call about needing a kidney. She was admitted and getting ready for surgery when the doctors informed her that the kidney was not in good condition and could not be given to her. They dismissed her.

Sears acknowledges that not all organs are suitable for transplant, but the recent claims regarding improper record-keeping modifications have cast doubt on that incident and her protracted waitlist stay.

“Maybe I made a mistake that gave the impression that I wasn’t a strong candidate?” she questioned. “I completed everything that was required of me. “.

After hearing her story at his church, a man who was a living donor, Sears said, was making plans for a transplant when the program was shut down.

She expresses her fear that they will now have to restart.

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