Immediate jeopardy citation preceded open-heart surgery halt at New York hospital

Surveyors with the New York State Department of Health issued an immediate jeopardy notice regarding the open-heart surgery program at Wynn Hospital in Utica, N.Y., hours before the hospital announced it was pausing the procedures on May 8. 

The chief operating officer of Mohawk Valley Health System, which owns Wynn Hospital, confirmed the immediate jeopardy warning in interviews with local news outlets. 

"They asked us to respond immediately with a plan and we did that," Rick Carvolth, MD, the system's COO, told the Observer-Dispatch. "That happened within the course of several hours. They came in the morning and by the end of the day, they had agreed with the plan that we had presented to them, part of which was to pause the surgery program."

Concerns raised by surveyors with the state health department echoed those raised internally several months ago, Dr. Carvolth told the news outlet. 

"We were seeing a reduction in referrals to our program," he said, "and we were also seeing some complications and some deaths that were of concern." 

The issues center around the program's management "and some of the clinical decision making," not the facility itself or technology being used, he said. 

An external organization review of the program "aimed at strengthening the service and reopening as quickly as possible," is being conducted, Mohawk Valley Health System said in a previous statement regarding the suspension of open-heart surgeries. Part of that review will include whether the program should let go of its current cardiothoracic surgeons, according to Dr. Carvolth. 

Wynn Hospital did not respond to requests for comment. The state's health department said it, "does not comment on matters that are or may be subject to review or investigation." 

It's unclear when the open-heart surgery program will resume, though Dr. Carvolth anticipates it will likely be at least a few weeks. The hospital had been performing about one open-heart surgery per week prior to the pause, officials told the Observer-Dispatch. The program opened at Mohawk Valley Health System's St. Elizabeth Campus in 1997. It was transferred to Wynn Hospital in October. 

Wynn Hospital has emphasized that no other cardiac services are being affected. The facility has said it is working with other providers in the region to ensure timely care for all patients requiring open-heart surgeries. 

"Neary all heart attacks can be treated with procedures being performed at the Wynn," the hospital said in its May 8 statement. "If a patient presents with a case so severe it requires open heart surgery, the staff at the Wynn are fully capable to stabilize the patient and safely transfer them to a higher level of care."

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