Kaiser Permanente has agreed to pay $1 million to settle claims on behalf of five patients alleging that the HMO mishandled its kidney transplant program, endangering lives and causing deaths.
The arbitration claims were filed in 2006, found that Kaiser’s Northern California kidney transplant program jeopardized hundreds of patients by forcing them into a new program unprepared to handle an enormous caseload.
“The failure of the program resulted in the deaths of some patients who did not timely receive kidney transplants. The health of others was severely jeopardized,” said Lawrence Eisenberg, an attorney for two former patients and the families of three deceased patients. “As the largest HMO in the country, Kaiser’s gross mismanagement of the kidney transplant program certainly did not allow their patients to thrive.”
Problems arose in the program soon after Kaiser began moving up to 1,500 kidney transplant patients from well-established centers at UC San Francisco and UC Davis to a new program introduced in the fall of 2004, the first transplant center that was opened by Kaiser.
Within months, Kaiser’s waiting list was among the longest in the country, and its patients’ odds of getting a kidney plummeted. In 2005, twice as many people died on the waiting list as received kidneys. The statewide pattern for transplant centers was the opposite: Twice as many patients received kidneys as died.
The settlements ranged from $100,000 to $300,000 for each client; most were limited by a state law passed in 1975 capping malpractice awards for “pain and suffering” to no more than $250,000. There is no limit on what patients can collect for loss of future wages.
* A 59-year-old high school teacher who died in May 2007. Tests conducted in January 2006 showed that her brother’s kidney could be used in the transplant, but administrative problems delayed the procedure for nearly a year. She was ultimately transferred to UC San Francisco but by then had become too ill to undergo the procedure.
* A 49-year-old woman who died in late 2006 after administrative errors kept her name off the regional waiting list. Her name was supposed to be added to the list in March 2003 but wasn’t added until two years later.
* A man who was taken off the regional waiting list in January 2006 even though he had not received a kidney. The man was re-listed in July 2006 when he returned to UC San Francisco. But he never received a kidney, and died at age 60 in September 2006.
* A woman, now 54, who went without a kidney transplant for 1 1/2 years after Kaiser declined a kidney donated on her behalf in April 2005. Kaiser said she was “too ill or unsuitable for the transplant at that time, which was blatantly untrue,” Eisenberg said. She was later transferred to UC Davis, and received a kidney in late 2006.
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