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Patients needing heart transplants can again turn to Albany Medical Center for the operations.

Hospital officials announced Thursday that the state Department of Health and the United Network for Organ Sharing, which is federally contracted to run the nation's transplant system, have cleared the way for the program to reopen.

The hospital shut the program down on Oct. 3, 2003, after a United Network audit and internal review found the severity of some patients' conditions had been exaggerated in order to move them up the waiting list for a cadaver organ.

A committee of doctors, nurses and administrators will now review each patient's status before the information is sent to the group for listing.

"I am confident our redesign of the heart transplant program has built in all the necessary safeguards to ensure that our institution will oversee and participate in the appropriate distribution of scarce human organs," President and CEO James J. Barba said at a news conference.

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