Another blow for Jewish Hospital: It's suspending heart transplants

Posted on: Monday, July 22, 2019 By: KorchekStaff

The announcement Thursday that Jewish Hospital would suspend its heart transplant program was a blow to an institution that once led the nation as an esteemed leader in heart care and innovative medical procedures.

The decision directly affects 32 people on the hospital's waiting list for new hearts. Once the program is halted next month, officials at Jewish Hospital are expected to help them transition to other transplant programs — and there's only one other program for adults in the state at the University of Kentucky.

Jewish's president Dr. Ronald Waldridge told staff on Thursday morning that patients who've already had transplants at the downtown Louisville hospital would continue to receive care, and that those who are awaiting the procedure would get help transitioning to another program.

"Though our heart transplant program will not be able to perform transplants or take new physician referrals, we will continue to provide physician coverage to manage care of our current heart transplant program patients," Waldridge wrote, adding that as volumes of available hearts dropped, Jewish also lost heart transplant cardiologists.

The news of the transplant suspension come at a tenuous time for Jewish, which has been up for sale for more than two years along with other facilities under the KentuckyOne banner. 

KentuckyOne officials said Thursday that Jewish was in danger of falling out of compliance with federal regulations after its transplant numbers fell far short of required minimums — with just one procedure so far this year.

They blamed the drop on new rules that revised how donated organs are allocated nationwide and, as a result, delivered fewer hearts to Jewish starting last October.

U of L President Neeli Bendapudi expressed disappointment with the decision and said that the university was informed about it on Thursday morning, hours before the announcement was made to the hospital's employees and the public. U of L's faculty physicians, medical residents and fellows work at all of the Jewish organ transplant programs.

She said that the university doesn't expect other organ transplant programs at Jewish to be affected, nor would it impact the Louisville School of Medicine’s accreditation.

“They’re our people, but it’s their program…so it’s their call on what’s activated or inactivated,” Bendapudi said.

Patients in the region approved for heart transplants at Jewish likely will be out of luck finding other options in Louisville. U of L Hospital doesn't have the space now to accommodate a transplant program, Tom Miller, chief executive of U of L Health told the university's board of trustees at a meeting Thursday. 

Asked about the potential for patients to transfer there, UKHealthCare officials said they are available to step up. "In this time of uncertainty, the University of Kentucky transplantation program will be available to support patient’s needs across Kentucky and the surrounding regions," spokesman Jay Blanton said in an emailed statement.

Jewish is the third-largest hospital in the region, behind Norton Hospital downtown and Baptist Health on Kresge Way. It has about 2,500 employees and more than 900 doctors regularly seeing patients. Estimates are that the facility needs $300 million to $500 million in upgrades.

Catholic Health Initiatives, which was KentuckyOne's parent until a merger early this year with Dignity Health, announced plans to sell off Jewish and other money-losing Louisville facilities in May 2017. But so far, the company, now called Common Spirit, has been unable to unload the bundle.

U of L tried to find a partner to help buy Jewish and other hospitals and clinics starting late last year, but when nothing materialized by late spring, the university withdrew from discussions.

That's left questions about how long Jewish can survive when KentuckyOne's owners are so desperate to get out from under multi-million contracts with U of L. An academic affiliation agreement and a support agreement is continuing now indefinitely between U of L and CommonSpirit Health.

Jewish also provides liver, lung, pancreas and kidney transplants.

As for a sale, KentuckyOne remains "in discussions with other organizations about the future of the Louisville operations."

Not all of Jewish's operations are tied to U of L, spokesman David McArthur said in an email. The hospital is staffed by employed and independent physicians, as well as U of L faculty physicians. And..."we have a very committed medical staff that continues to serve patients and the community."