The New York Health Department today fined Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center Hospital $18,000 for falsely reporting patient information in its heart-transplant program. The state accused the 576-bed academic medical center of exaggerating the seriousness of patient conditions to move transplant candidates higher on the transplant waiting list. The hospital suspended its heart-transplant program in October 2003 after an audit uncovered "serious concerns" by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the agency that maintains the nation's organ-transplant waiting list. It also suspended two physicians leading the transplant program. The audit found that 45 transplant patients had been moved up the waiting list based on the information and, in the cases of five patients, the hospital falsely claimed that they would die within a week without transplants. From 1999 through 2003, Albany Medical Center performed 88 heart transplants.
The state health department cited the hospital for nine violations. State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello said while the quality of care and sickness of the patient were not in question, the hospital's conduct was. Before the hospital can reopen the heart-transplant program it must submit a plan of correction and pass state on-site compliance surveys. James Barba, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center Hospital, said as soon as the hospital discovered its compliance program wasn't working, it suspended the physicians and the program and notified the organ network and the state. The hospital will submit a plan of correction in hope of reinstating the transplant program before year-end, Barba said. -- by Mark Taylor