A Houston hospital is replacing the surgical director of its renowned heart transplant programs with two veteran transplant surgeons and a veteran transplant program executive after a series of media reports on an unusual number of patient deaths.
The move comes after Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center temporarily shut down the program in the wake of reports by the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica of problems with the program.
The hospital announced Friday that Dr. Kenneth Liao and Dr. Alexis Shafii will jointly lead the program previously led by Dr. Jeffrey Morgan. Deborah Maurer, who has long administered transplant programs in Chicago and Arizona, will fill a new position overseeing the operations of all St. Luke’s organ transplant programs.
Liao will come to St. Luke’s in January from the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he has been the top heart transplant surgeon. He will be St. Luke’s new chief of cardiothoracic transplants and mechanical circulatory support.
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Shafii, who has already taken over as St. Luke’s surgical director of heart transplants, was previously surgical director of the lung transplant program at the University of Kentucky Transplant Center.
The Chronicle-ProPublica investigation found that the transplant center has performed an unusual number of transplants that resulted in deaths or unusual complications, has lost several top physicians and had pulled back from treating high-risk patients — all the while promoting its lustrous past. St. Luke’s heart transplant program was made famous by Dr. Denton Cooley.
The hospital says Morgan will remain on its medical staff, but it’s not saying if he will continue performing transplants.
“The addition of two expert surgeons and an experienced executive who specializes in transplant program administration demonstrates Baylor St. Luke’s continued and growing commitment to heart and lung transplants,” said St. Luke’s President Gay Nord in a statement Friday.
In early June, St. Luke’s suspended its heart transplant program for two weeks amid scrutiny over patient deaths. The hospital’s administrators looked into what led to two patient deaths in May. The hospital reopened after making changes to policy and staffing.
However, the concerns over transplant outcomes prompted the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to stop funding for the program in August, so the hospital can no longer bill Medicare and Medicaid for heart transplants.