Florida hospital CEO: Not telling parents about needle in baby's heart was a 'complete failure'

Jonathan Ellen, MD, president, CEO and physician-in-chief of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital said May 22 the hospital has scaled back the number of heart operations it performs following two incidents in which needles were left in patients' hearts after surgery, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Dr. Ellen said the hospital's Heart Institute has "gone so far as to reduce the number of complex cases we do and slow down the amount of care we [provide]" after an internal investigation revealed two incidents in which patients were discharged from the institution with needles in their hearts.

In one of the incidents, the patient's parents were never notified of the needle.

"I can't sit here and defend it in any way, shape or form. … That broke my heart. That's the reality," Dr. Ellen told the Tampa Bay Times, adding the fact that the parents were never told was a "complete failure."

Dr. Ellen said the hospital stopped taking neonatal cases in early 2017 and now performs six surgeries per month, according to the report. He also confirmed the hospital is working to hire a new chief surgeon and aims to return to its former neonatal case volume of about 350 surgeries per year.

The incidents initially came to light after a Tampa Bay Times investigation in April discussed the case of 3-day-old Katelynn Whipple, who was found to have a needle in her heart during a follow-up visit to the hospital after she underwent heart surgery in 2016. The surgeon who operated on the child denied the needle had been left in the child. Ten days later, Katelynn's parents took her to anothert hospital for emergency surgery unrelated to the needle. The surgeon operating on the child reportedly discovered the needle 30 minutes into the operation.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration previously told the publication it decided to accelerate its investigation of the hospital after learning of the two needle incidents.The results of the April investigation, released May 15 and obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, cited the hospital for not reporting the two "adverse incidents" within 15 days as required by law. The hospital also violated state law by not disclosing the incident to the patient or a patient representative. CMS also has launched an investigation into the hospital.

Dr. Ellen told the publication the hospital's failure to file reports about both incidents within the 15-day timeframe constituted an "honest mistake," and leadership has since "re-educated" all staff members on the policy.

"Our policy has always been to disclose immediately. In this case it didn’t happen," he said.

To access the full report, click here.

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