Judge quits St. Luke's board after investigation finds heart transplant safety issues

A prominent federal judge resigned from the board of directors at Houston-based Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center after an investigation revealed a high rate of deaths and unusual complications in the hospital's heart transplant program, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Five things to know:

1. Carolyn Dineen King, a senior U.S. Circuit judge, said she stepped down from St. Luke's board May 30, two weeks after the Chronicle and ProPublica published the investigation detailing problems with the program. Ms. King joined the board in January 2014 and chaired the committee that oversees quality and patient safety at St. Luke's, part of Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives.

When a reporter asked Ms. King if she quit because she was not fully informed about the program's problems, she declined to comment.

2. The series of stories published by Chronicle and ProPublica found the program performed an outsized number of transplants that resulted in patient deaths or unusual complications. After raising concerns, several top physicians left the program, including a few cardiologists who began sending patients to other hospitals for transplants.

3. Ms. King was the only board member who resigned this year, hospital officials said. Additionally, hospital administrators took steps to "correct and improve" the heart transplant program over the last three years and kept board members informed of their progress, a spokesperson told the Chronicle.

4. A special committee of the board, appointed after the investigation's release, aims to improve the heart transplant program and is "committed to ensuring the high level of excellence that everyone envisions at Baylor St. Luke's," hospital officials said.

5. CMS cut off Medicare funding for the program Aug. 17 because the hospital did not show it had done enough to ensure patient safety.

The deadline to appeal CMS' decision is Sept. 14, but hospital administrators have not said if they plan to do so.

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