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Organ procurement: Trust matters

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Nonprofits that procure donated organs for transplantation too often betray their mission through spending that diminishes trust in them by wrongly costing taxpayers.

Reviewing 2011 federal tax filings and audits done since 2010 by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, the Trib identified “multiple incidents” involving expenses deemed improper by auditors and partial billing of those expenses to taxpayers via Medicare.

The $167,000-plus questionably spent by the California Transplant Donor Network included $9,600 billed to taxpayers for about half the cost of a former CEO's 2007 retirement party.

Life Connection of Ohio board members billed taxpayers $2,100 for a 146-mile private-plane trip from Toledo to Dayton.

And Los Angeles' OneLegacy billed taxpayers for part of its $75,000 annual sponsorship of a Rose Bowl Parade float — even after the inspector general faulted it for doing so.

But such spending's greatest cost — the distrust it breeds — can't be measured in dollars and cents. “If we lose the trust,” says Susan Stuart, CEO of the Center for Organ Recovery & Education in O'Hara and president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, “more people will die.”

Supposed to serve the public and help save lives, these nonprofits turn self-serving and hinder their purpose when they spend and bill taxpayers improperly. It's a practice that Medicare's federal overseers must end.

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