Surgeon Dispute Halts University of Arizona's Transplant Programs

Transplant services at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson are on hiatus due to a "bitter professional dispute," according to an Arizona Daily Star report.
Rainer Gruessner, MD, chairman of UAMC's department of surgery, was suspended with pay in September and banned from returning to the hospital campus without notifying security.

Court documents indicate UAMC made the suspension in light of an accusation that Dr. Gruessner either altered transplant records or directed others to alter them, including removing his name from records of surgeries that may not have gone as planned, according to the report.

Court documents say Dr. Gruessner allegedly asked the business manager for transplant services to change data in the computer system. Hospital administrators needed to be informed of the inaccuracies, according to the report. He allegedly met with a hospital administrator Sept. 11. He received a notice of his suspension Sept. 16.

But Dr. Gruessner filed a whistleblower lawsuit in November against the University of Arizona College of Medicine, University of Arizona Health Network (which includes both of UAMC's hospital campuses), University Physicians Healthcare and the Arizona Board of Regents.

He claims he was suspended without cause and that his employer fabricated a reason to suspend him because Dr. Gruessner was critical of Steve Goldschmid, MD dean of the UA College of Medicine. Dr. Goldschmid is part of the executive leadership team for the University of Arizona Health Network.

"The suspension was unwarranted, and, on information, based solely on the personal and philosophical differences between Dr. Gruessner and Dean Goldschmid," the lawsuit reads.

UAMC's heart transplant program is on hiatus while, hospital officials say, more experienced surgeons are hired. UAMC has also halted its lung transplant program, one of two in the state. That leaves St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix as the only Arizona program. Surgeons at UAMC are still performing kidney and liver transplants, but no pediatric liver transplants have been performed since 2012, when a gastroenterologist and transplant specialist left the hospital.

Dr. Gruessner's lawsuit claims he recruited more than 75 percent of UAMC's current faculty, and "his continued presence will help to stop the dangerous exodus of faculty." Some of the surgeons he hired were those who treated victims of the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

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