OHSU Suspends Heart Transplant Program Indefinitely

Providence Health & Services, which has a robust cardiology program, is bracing for an influx of patients.

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Oregon Health & Science University announced late Friday that it was halting the state's only heart transplant program indefinitely.

A week ago, OHSU officials told staff in an internal email that the university would close the program for two weeks because of a lack of cardiologists. 

Dr. Jill Gelow was the first to leave. She adopted a son and wanted to spend time with him so she resigned because OHSU was not going to give her leave. On July 30, she was hired by Providence Health & Services. Dr. Jim Mudd, the lead cardiologist in the program is stepping down at the end of September because his boss, Dr. Joachin Cigarroa, was not renewing Mudd's contract, sources told The Lund Report. Dr. Jonathan Davis, overworked because of staffing shortages, is also leaving along with Dr. Divya Soman, the remaining cardiologist in the transplant program.

The only other heart transplant programs on the West Coast are in Seattle, Spokane and San Francisco. In Oregon, Providence Health & Services does not perform transplants but has a robust cardiology department.

Providence is bracing for an influx of patients.

The lead cardiologists at Providence told staff in an internal note on Thursday that "the departure of these physicians will affect care not just for transplant patients but for other populations of heart failure patients who are treated at OHSU." Dr. Dan Oseran, executive medical director of cardiology at Providence in Oregon, and Jennifer Zelensky, executive director, added, "Providence is likely to be the community’s logical option for patients requiring this type of care."

"We have begun discussions with OHSU about transitioning care for patients in the short term," the memo said. "We know this presents both opportunities as well as challenges to our program, our hospitals and our clinics. We are in the process of quickly putting in place the operational infrastructure to accommodate these anticipated increased volumes."

Providence employs five heart failure specialists, including Gelow.

At OHSU, there are 20 patients on the transplant waiting list and five due to be evaluated. Another 327 are in various stages of aftercare. OHSU said that the 20 waitlist patients have moved to other programs or are staying put. Eight of them were referred to the University of Washington in Seattle, UW Medicine announced. It performed 75 heart transplants last year, making it the third largest program in the country. 

OHSU physicians will meet with the five patients who are waiting for an evaluation to discuss their options. OHSU said it will address the immediate needs of the 327 post-transplant patients.

During the suspension, OHSU will not accept referrals, evaluate new patients for transplant, accept donor hearts, implant long-term heart pumps or perform any heart transplants. It will work to move patients with long-term ventriular assist devices to other centers, such as Providence, and will continue to treat patients who need complex cardiovascular and heart failure care.

OHSU’s liver, pancreas, kidney and bone marrow transplant programs are not affected.

The announcement said the university is notifying patients by phone or letter of the extended suspension. It advised patients who've not heard from anyone to call the cardiac hotline at 833-674-8236 or email [email protected].

OHSU is looking for heart failure cardiologists to staff the program, but recruiting talent takes time -- especially now with all the publicity about the suspension.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].