OHSU Will Hire Consultants To Evaluate Suspended Heart Transplant Program

The new president of Oregon Health & Science University, Danny Jacobs, said in a statement that he plans to restart the program eventually.

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Weeks after suspending its heart transplant program, Oregon Health & Science University announced it will hire outside consultants to look at what went wrong.

The move was announced by Danny Jacobs, president of OHSU. It marks his first public initiative since taking the helm in early August.

“As president of the state’s only academic health center, it is my responsibility to ensure all Oregonians have access to the best possible care in a supportive environment,” Jacobs said in a statement. “Building on the heart transplant program’s history and legacy, this review will help inform our ongoing efforts to ensure the program is sustainable for the long term."

The review, which will start next month, will evaluate the program's quality of care; management; and training and education of staff.

Dr. Joachin Cigarroa, head of the division of cardiovascular medicine, has led the program for about a year. Sources told The Lund Report that he was at odds with the lead cardiologist on the heart transplant team, Dr. James Mudd. When Cigarroa made it clear he was not going to renew Mudd's contract, Mudd decided to leave at the end of this month. Dr. Jonathan Davis, who's had to work extra nights on-call, also is leaving along with Dr. Divya Soman. The only other heart failure cardiologist, Dr. Jill Gelow, moved to Providence Health & Services at the end of July so she could spend more time with her newly adopted orphan son.

The review is expected to take several months. OHSU said in its statement that the staff will be able to share their concerns with the consultants anonymously. It's not clear whether the review team will interview the departed cardiologists, however.

OHSU's heart transplant program, which is more than 30 years old, is the only one in Oregon. The statement said the 20 patients on the waitlist who wanted to go elsewhere have been connected with other programs. A spokeswoman said that many of them have shifted to the University of Washington in Seattle, the third largest program in the country. It performed 75 transplants last year compared with 18 at OHSU.

OHSU said it is paying for the airfare, lodging, food and any other travel expenses for patients who have out-of-town appointments. It has no estimate of how much that will cost.

"It’s too soon to have a full accounting of expenditures and we won't speculate," said Tamara Hargens-Bradley, a lead spokeswoman. 

The university is exploring the possibility of UW Medicine specialists coming to Portland so that patients don't have to travel. 

The suspension has worried patients, creating anxiety about the future. Though OHSU suspended the program indefinitely, Jacobs said he plans to restart it.

“We are fully committed to reactivating the state’s only heart transplant program for patients in Oregon and beyond," Jacobs said in the statement. "To that end, we are aggressively recruiting the specialists needed to provide the full continuum of care. Although much of the peer review process is confidential, we will share our progress with patients, employees and the community.”

It could take months, even years, to get the program back on track.