Arkansas hospital suspends cardiac surgery program following lead surgeon's retirement

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Little Rock-based University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences suspended its cardiac surgery program as it works to replace retired lead surgeon Gareth Tobler, MD, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The temporary shutdown began April 30, just days after Dr. Tobler retired. Christopher Westfall, MD, interim dean of the UAMS College of Medicine, and Richard Turnage, MD, vice chancellor for clinical programs and CEO of Little Rock-based UAMS Medical Center, told medical staff via email May 2 the decision to suspend the program was "made in the interest of safety for our patients, even though there have been no safety events or concerns," according to the report. They said it was "due to inadequate surgery coverage" following Dr. Tobler's retirement.

The email to medical staff stated UAMS officials are working to replace Dr. Tobler and "reopen the surgical program with coverage from local cardiac surgeons" amid those efforts, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

There is one cardiac surgeon who works part time at UAMS, in addition to working at John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, according to the report. However, UAMS spokesperson Leslie Taylor told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the program was suspended because "UAMS didn't think it was feasible for this surgeon to work part time at UAMS and at the VA and also be on call 24 hours a day to provide coverage for cardiac surgery."

She told the publication some cardiac surgery patients will be diverted to other Little Rock hospitals. She noted UAMS can still perform other procedures such as cardiac Cath and stents, and that UAMS College of Medicine's teaching program is not affected by the temporary cardiac surgery program shutdown.


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