Allegheny Health Network reports surge in transplants as rival UPMC investigates mold outbreak |

Allegheny Health Network reports surge in transplants as rival UPMC investigates mold outbreak

Ben Schmitt

The weeklong shutdown of UPMC’s transplant program gave a boost to rival Allegheny Health Network, which this week experienced a surge in transplants and inquiries.

While UPMC investigated a mold outbreak, doctors at Allegheny General Hospital performed seven kidney transplants, more than triple its average of two a week, said AHN spokesman Dan Laurent.

Additionally, the hospital received 24 patient referrals for kidney transplants since Monday, when UPMC halted its program, Laurent said.

“That is far and above a typical number for our program for one week,” he said, adding that the hospital generally averages 35 to 45 such referrals a month.

Moreover, six transplant candidates from UPMC reached out to AHN this week to explore a transition to one of its programs, Laurent said.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “Sometimes it takes an unfortunate situation like this for patients and referring patients to become more aware of health care options in the community. At the end of the day, we want to do what’s best for the patients.”

The Center for Organ Recovery and Education in O’Hara recovered the organs, Laurent said. CORE President Susan Stuart did not return a call for comment Friday.

UPMC officials have not said when the transplant program — one of the busiest in the country — will reopen. They are awaiting the conclusion of a joint investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“UPMC is committed to resuming transplant operations as soon as possible,” said UPMC spokeswoman Allison Hydzik. “We want to do what is best for our patients; that is our top priority.”

Investigators are tracking down the source of mold that caused infections among four transplant patients in UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore in Oakland. Three of those patients died. Two of them received heart transplants in Presby, and the other a liver in nearby Montefiore. Officials have said they cannot confirm the deaths were directly caused by the mold infections because the patients had severely weakened immune systems. The fourth patient, who remains hospitalized in Presby, is in guarded condition.

Kidney transplant volume at UPMC traditionally has been higher than Allegheny’s, whose program is under the direction of Dr. Ngoc Thai, a former UPMC surgeon. UPMC reported 179 kidney transplants in 2014, compared with 73 at Allegheny General, Allegheny Health Network’s flagship in the North Side and the hub of its transplant program. At its height in 2006, UPMC performed 295 kidney transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Jeremy Church, a vice president of media and content strategy for WordWrite Communications, a public relations and crisis communications firm in Pittsburgh, said AHN’s announcement is strictly business.

“Regardless of the industry, when one competing entity encounters a crisis, it’s not uncommon for rivals to highlight the situation,” he said Friday.

Ben Schmitt is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or [email protected].

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