After the third time in a year he thought he was scheduled for surgery to replace his failing kidneys, only to see the date pass by, Bernard Burks had enough. On that day in February 2006, he jumped into a car with friends, he says, and drove 90 miles from his home in Sacramento to the Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Francisco, without an appointment, determined to find a person to talk to him.
At 56, his right forearm bearing two large bumps from the shunts used to connect him to a dialysis machine, he was working to keep his real estate business going while battling the kidney disease that started him on dialysis on Christmas Day 2001.
Burks had plenty of reasons to be upset at Kaiser, a $34 billion health maintenance organization headquartered in Oakland. In 2004, Kaiser told him and 1,500 other patients that if they wanted their care covered, they had to transfer from two University of California medical centers where Kaiser was sending them for pre-transplant treatment to a new renal transplant center Kaiser was opening in San Francisco.
Burks moved to the new facility, but then, he says, Kaiser lost records of his transfer, along with credit for the three years he had already spent on the kidney transplant waiting list at UC Davis. Burks daughter had offered to give him her kidney, but Kaiser couldnt seem to get the surgery scheduled. He would call the transplant center, he says, but his calls were rarely returned.
At Kaisers San Francisco medical center, he rode the elevator to the transplant unit and walked down the hall. “Ive been calling down here for weeks!” he remembers telling the receptionist. “Im tired of this!”
He refused to leave until someone agreed to speak with him. After about an hour, he says, transplant coordinator Mary-Pat Sherman came out. “I was just about to call you,” he remembers her saying. “Were inundated.”
More than a year later, his face still tenses at the memory. “Thats not my problem!” he recalls saying. Reached at her office at Kaiser, Sherman refused to talk to Baseline.
Burks, however, would soon discover he was not the only kidney patient struggling with Kaiser.
Kaiser opened its transplant center in 2004, but so bungled paperwork and procedures, according to state and federal investigators, that less than two years later, it shut down the facility.