To boost transplant patient survival rates, Dr Mark Zucker and his team have allegedly been keeping vegetative patients on life support for an entire year without family consent according to a recent investigation by ProPublica. For hospitals that have organ transplant programs, the patient survival rate is the most important number tracked by the US Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If a hospital has a “one year survival rate” falling bellow an expected number calculated by an algorithm, an audit might be launched by the agency. If the audit uncovers serious problems, the transplant program can potentially loose its Medicare certification. As a result the hospital would loose the procedures paid by Medicare and by some medicaid and private insurance plans that only reimburse for transplants at Medicare approved transplant programs. A hospital charges around 1.4 million for a heart transplant.
Newark Beth Israel advertises itself as one of the best heart and lung transplant hospitals in the country. For 30 years, Dr Mark Zucker has been leading the heart and lung transplant program. His heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Margarita Camacho, has been performing most of the heart surgeries since 2005. She developed a strong and successful reputation as a heart transplant surgeon, travelling in person to donors hospitals to inspect the facility and the donor’s heart before traveling back to Beth Israel with the organ.
Very unethical decisions made by the hospital to game the system
According to governmental statistics, in the US, the one year rate the actual rate of survival for heart patients transplants is a little bit over 90%. At Newark Beth Israel, from 2008 to 2017 the rate never dipped bellow 85.7% and even reached 96.9% in 2012. However last year, for reasons that are still unclear, out of 38 patients who received a new heart, six died and Pro Publica found out that another one, Darryl Young, a 61 year old Navy vet and retired truck driver with 3 children, never woke up after the surgery and was kept in a vegetative state since September 21 2018. If Darryl Young had died, the one year survival rate for the hospital’s heart transplant program would have been 81.6% instead of 84.2% which would have most probably triggered an audit. According to ProPublica at least four other patients at Newark Beth Israel were artificially maintained alive and their family intentionally misinformed to prevent federal investigations and the threat of a program suspension.
The complete ProPublica Investigation can be found here