We care deeply about our patients. At University of Utah Health Care we know we must continue to earn the trust of our patients every day by providing exceptional care, and engaging with patients in a way that is compassionate, honest and transparent.
Today, we want to discuss a story that first became public after a woman shared concerns with us and the media. She has reported that she and her husband received infertility treatment at the University of Utah Community Laboratory and Reproductive Medical Technologies, Inc. (RMTI) in the early 1990s. Recently, a genetic test revealed that contrary to what they had believed, her husband was not the biological father of the couple’s daughter, who was born in 1992. The biological father has since been identified as Tom Lippert, a former medical technician of the two laboratories who was responsible for preparing sperm samples. We sympathize with the anxiety this family has experienced. We do not know how this occurred and are carefully reviewing the concerns raised.
It is important that we clarify the affiliation between the University of Utah Community Laboratory and RMTI, which began in 1984 and ended when RMTI became defunct in 1998. Although the two laboratories were separate entities, we have now learned that in addition to being co-located, the labs shared administrative oversight and staff. Understandably, to many patients, they might well have appeared to be one entity. This overlap has made it difficult to piece together who had oversight of various activities, and who was ultimately accountable. Both laboratories employed Mr. Lippert, who, as widely reported, had a criminal record.
We take responsibility for this situation and the uncertainty it has created, and want to provide information to our patients, and to patients of RMTI who believed they were in the care of the University. We have reached out to the patients who have raised concerns, and want to share here our ongoing plans.
This is what we are doing to address this issue:
- First, and most importantly, because our patients are our primary focus, we are working with those who have raised questions and concerns. We will continue our hotline number for patients who have questions about their care: 801-587-5852. In addition, we will be adding a link directly on our website with information and updates. Patients can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will continue to offer paternity testing for patients who were in RMTI or the University of Utah’s care during the relevant time period.
- Second, the University has worked hard to gather the available documents from this time period, and we have established a panel of distinguished physicians to review all aspects of this case. The physician leaders have no connection to this case, RMTI, or the community laboratory. They will review medical records, protocols, and the ethical issues presented. The panel will consist of Dr. John F. Bohnsack, Vice-Chair of Pediatrics, and Executive Medical Officer, University of Utah Medical Group; Dr. Thomas L. Miller, Chief Medical Officer, University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics; and Dr. Jeffrey R. Botkin, Chief, Medical Ethics, University of Utah School of Medicine.
- Third, to ensure the integrity of the process, we have retained an independent third-party medical ethicist, Professor R. Alta Charo from the University of Wisconsin. Professor Charo will review the methodology used by the committee and its findings and recommendations. Once this process is complete, we will share the results with our patients and the public.
The events in question occurred more than 20 years ago and records from that time are incomplete. That challenge notwithstanding, we are committed to reaching a fuller understanding of what happened then and to providing our patients with relevant information in an expeditious and compassionate manner.
Most of the documents we have discovered so far pertained to the employment and practices of Mr. Lippert over two decades ago. Some suggested he was deserving of a raise; others suggested more oversight was needed of both him and the two laboratories.
Our policies and protocols today are very different than what was in place in these two labs, given the industry standard in the 80’s and early 90’s. In the laboratories and clinics where we handle patient specimens and treat infertility and other conditions today, we maintain strict protocols regarding identification and tissue handling. We meet rigorous national accreditation standards and perform internal compliance audits and reviews. We no longer maintain a donor sperm bank and rely instead on national banks. In addition, all our employees undergo careful screening and criminal background checks.
We are committed to investigating the questions raised in this case. While there are inherent challenges – the passage of time, the fact that RMTI has been defunct since 1998, and the deaths of Mr. Lippert and RMTI’s principal, Dr. Ron Urry – what we can answer, we will.
Furthermore, while continuing to protect our patients’ privacy, we will share the results of the investigation once it is complete.
Again, we are deeply sorry for any anxiety this has caused our patients. If you have further questions, please call 801-587-5852.