Maureen Zehntner, 60, who held the fort at the UC Irvine Medical Center, California during some troubled times, is to step down. She announced her decision to staff members by e-mail Monday.
She has been on the job less than eight months and had served as the troubled hospital's interim chief executive since 2005. She cited personal reasons for her resignation, effective March 6.
Zehntner, a registered nurse, was promoted after 12 years as the hospital's chief operating officer during an era in which the institution weathered a series of high-profile scandals in its liver, bone marrow and kidney transplant programs; Willed Body Program; and anesthesiology department. But her supervisor, the university's vice chancellor for health affairs, has said Zehnt- ner was not involved in the institution's past problems.
In 2005, the medical center in Orange County shut down its liver transplant program after Medicare funding was withdrawn. The closure came after 32 people died awaiting livers in 2004 and '05. The deaths were linked to flawed rejection of organs by doctors - for the very same organs were successfully transplanted elsewhere.
In 1999 and 2000, the University of California's Willed Body Program came under fire after its director sold parts of cadavers and did unauthorized autopsies. And in 1995, before Zehntner arrived, it came to light that a team of fertility doctors at the school's Center for Reproductive Health had stolen patients' eggs or embryos and implanted them in other women without permission.
In September, the medical center was put under the supervision of the state Department of Public Health for safety failures and shoddy record-keeping in its anesthesiology department, putting it at risk of losing federal funding. Inspectors recently returned to the hospital, but their report has not been completed.
And last month the California Medical Board accused the former anesthesiology department head of gross negligence and incompetence for allegedly falsifying records and assigning a resident to operating room duties even though his left hand was in a cast.
Zehntner did not return a call and e-mail seeking comment late Monday, but wrote in her e-mail to staff that "the recent, unexpected loss of both my parents, and the very serious medical condition of another family member, has caused me to reflect deeply and has weighed heavily in my decision. Underscoring my decision is the fact that my husband, Robert, has been retired for eight years and is eager for me to join him in retirement."
Dr. David N. Bailey, UC Irvine's vice chancellor for health affairs, said Zehntner had been thinking about retiring for several weeks. He credited her with helping bring to fruition the university's new hospital, set to open in February, Los Angeles Times reported.
"Maureen has been absolutely a jewel," he said. "It's very, very painful to lose her, but on the other hand, she's deserved retirement."
Her predecessor, Dr. Ralph Cygan, resigned under pressure after it was revealed that he had provided false information to keep the hospital's liver transplant unit running.