Houston hospital patients 'in limbo' after heart transplant program suspended

After Houston-based Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, part of Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives, suspended its heart transplant program June 1, 89 patients are in limbo waiting for care — some of whom have yet to directly hear from the hospital, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Four things to know:

1. The voluntary suspension came after a May investigation by the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica revealed ongoing problems with the heart transplant program. In the last few years, the program experienced an exodus of top physicians and an unusually high death rate among patients within a year of receiving a heart transplant.

The investigation found several heart transplant recipients had suffered unusual complications since 2016, including two patients who had major veins stitched closed during surgery. The problems caused several of the hospital's cardiologists, beginning two years ago, to start referring some of the most critically ill patients to other hospitals. CMS cited the program in January for its poor outcomes.

2. After the two most recent patient deaths, hospital officials announced a 14-day suspension of the program June 1. Now, 89 patients are waiting for a heart transplant at St. Luke's, but only a half-dozen are high on the waiting list and at risk of missing the chance for a new heart during the suspension.

3. The 89 patients are waiting to learn if the program will start back up on June 15 after the end of a two-week internal review. If it doesn't reopen by then, the program will face more regulatory requirements that could mean it would be suspended for weeks or months longer.

4. In a written response to questions asked by the Chronicle, a St. Luke's spokesperson said the hospital directly contacted the most critically ill patients on its waiting list "and others as available" to let them know of the suspension. The hospital is continuing its internal review and "will determine next steps for the program at the end of the 14-day period [June 15]."

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