Cleveland-based University Hospitals Health System, which voluntarily suspended its heart transplants in February after several unexplained deaths, announced last week it would apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reopen the program.
UHHS spokeswoman Eileen Korey said the heart transplant program has completed an external review from a committee of national transplant experts and has passed muster. She said the external review committee attributed the four deaths from January 2001 to February to treating very sick patients and pointed to higher-than-national-average survival rates for patients.
When UHHS suspended its program to investigate the deaths, it lost its certification for the program. Now it must seek recertification from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the federally designated certifying body for organ transplant programs. Once it receives the certification, UHHS again will seek CMS approval. A CMS spokesman said Medicare won't pay for UHHS transplants until it performs 12 within a year.
Korey said the 779-bed medical center, which has performed 40 transplants since its program was established in 1998, began the application process last week. In a letter to employees, outgoing UHHS President and Chief Executive Officer Farah Walters said the external review panel concluded that the transplant staff was "highly experienced and guided by the proper protocols" and recommended restarting the program.
UHHS started its transplant program by hiring several top surgeons in 1998 from its rival, the Cleveland Clinic. Earlier this month, UHHS suspended Thomas Kirby, M.D., its chief lung transplant surgeon and former co-chairman of cardiothoracic surgery who had complained about program outcomes, for alleged violations of medical staff bylaws.
UHHS' Korey denied that the imbroglio relating to the transplant program's closure influenced the decision of the hospital's longtime CEO to retire June 6. Walters announced in April she would step down after leading the organization for 10 years.