Health Care
3:58 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

U Physicians Investigating Fertility Clinic Mix-Up

The University of Utah is investigating an incident at a fertility clinic where an employee is accused of illegally using his own semen to father at least one baby. The University is clarifying its relationship with the now-defunct clinic, and trying to uncover what records still exist from more than 20 years ago. U officials say up to 1000 patients could possibly have been affected.

In spring last year, the University of Utah was contacted by a family who reported they had received infertility treatments at Reproductive Medical Technologies, Inc. (RMTI) in the early 1990’s. Recent genetic tests revealed that the couple’s daughter was not the biological offspring of her father. The U is now reaching out to others who might have been affected by the actions of former RMTI employee Thomas Lippert. Now deceased, Lippert is believed to have swapped his sperm for others' at the Millcreek fertility clinic while he was employed there between the late 80s and early 90s. Sean Mulvihill, CEO of the U’s Medical Group says they have so far been contacted by 15 patients on their hotline number, and they would like to hear from more.

“What we’re hoping with this event today is to reach out to those individuals who may be worried, who may have had care at that time, and ask them to contact us for more information, counseling, and if they chose paternity testing,” Mulvihill says. “We do not have accurate records to reach out to those individuals.”

The University is taking responsibility for the investigation since officials have determined that RMTI was affiliated with the U’s former Community Laboratory. The two labs were co-located, shared administrative oversight and staff. Both labs are now closed, and both employed Lippert, who had a criminal record. Mulvihill says industry standards today are much different from what was in place in the two labs at that time. He says all employees undergo screening and criminal background checks. The U no longer maintains a donor sperm bank, and relies instead on national banks.

“This is a shocking story to all of us,” Mulvihill says. “We want to make sure that people are reassured that the policies and practices today make it inconceivable that this same sort of thing could happen today.”

A panel of physicians has been appointed to review information and documentation to find out what went wrong and how many people may have been affected. The U will continue to host a hotline number, 1-801-587-5852, and email, andrology@hsc.utah.edu, for former patients. The website, communitylabfacts.org, provides information to the public about the U's ongoing investigation.