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Providence Delays Launch Of Heart Transplant Program

Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland. | M.O. STEVENS/WIKIMEDIA
March 31, 2020

In recent weeks, Providence Health & Services has run online ads showing the cheerful face of Dr. Jill Gelow, medical director of the company’s heart transplant program.

The ads appeared timed to coincide with the launch of Providence’s heart transplant program at St. Vincent Medical Center in Southwest Portland. The company had hoped to open the program to patients on April 1, company sources told The Lund Report. 

But that date has been pushed back. A spokeswoman said the hospital will wait until after the coronavirus storm has passed.

Dr. Dan Oseran, medical director of the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, declined to name a date in a February statement to The Lund Report:  “We are working to build out a heart transplant team with the goal of performing our first heart transplant this spring.” the statement said. “Our top priority is to build a team that offers heart failure patients the highest quality of care possible.”

Last November, Providence announced it had put together a heart transplant team. Gelow, who left Oregon Health & Science University’s program in 2018 as it imploded, was snapped up by Providence and then named the transplant program’s medical director.

Providence hired an experienced heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Brian Gruckner from Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center in Houston, Texas, to be the surgical director of the program. 

Five other surgeons, including one who has also performed heart transplants like Bruckner, are on the team along with five heart failure cardiologists besides Gelow. The team also includes heart transplant nurses, including one who worked with Gelow at OHSU, along with transplant coordinators and social workers. 

But the program is missing one key element: approval by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation board of directors. It’s not clear what’s holding that up. Programs must show they meet a number of qualifications, including having an appropriate lab, relationship with a donor network and qualified personnel with fairly recent experience with heart transplantation.

OHSU still has the only heart transplant program approved in Oregon. The university did not respond to a request for comment, but late last year, OHSU said it had a waiting list but had not performed any surgeries. The program was closed for a year after all of the heart transplant cardiologists left, angered that their boss was forced out. At the time, the team was hunkered down, working under new restrictions after a series of deaths in 2017.

After Providence launches its program, it will have to perform 10 heart transplants before being eligible for reimbursement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Providence, which is well-funded, will likely perform them for free.

The last time that Oregon had two heart transplant programs was in 2012 when Providence closed its program because of lack of volume.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.