Lutheran Hospital is halting its heart transplant program – at least for the short term, officials announced Friday.
The hospital's only cardiologist specially trained to lead the program is moving out of state next month. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the United Network for Organ Sharing require heart transplant programs to have a dedicated cardiologist with specialized training, experience and certification.
Lutheran officials recruited another advanced heart failure specialist to fill the position, “but those plans fell through,” spokesman Geoff Thomas said in an email. Hospital officials continue to recruit a qualified replacement, he said.
“We understand this creates uncertainty for patients in our heart transplant program,” Thomas said in a two-paragraph statement. “Our team has spoken with the four patients on Lutheran Hospital's transplant waiting list, and we are assisting them and our post-transplant patients in transferring their care to the St. Vincent heart transplant program in Indianapolis or another program of the patient's choice.”
“We are committed to supporting them throughout this process to ensure a smooth transition,” he added.
Lutheran Hospital's heart transplant program has given the health care provider bragging rights over cross-town rival Parkview Health for almost 35 years.
Dr. Mike Schatzlein performed the first heart transplant at Lutheran Hospital in 1985. Since then, more than 300 of the highly technical procedures have been performed there.
Lutheran Hospital added kidney transplants to its offerings in 2007.
Parkview Health spokeswoman Jessica Foor on Friday dodged a question about whether this disruption to Lutheran's heart transplant program creates an opening for Parkview to launch one of its own.
Foor responded by email that “the Parkview Heart Institute has strong partnerships with both in-state and out-of-state hospitals that perform heart transplantations.”
“Those relationships create a seamless continuum of care that allows our patients to receive the majority of their treatment, including pre- and post-transplant care, close to home at the Parkview Heart Institute,” she said.
Various heart-related procedures refined in recent years have reduced the need for transplants, medical experts say. Doctors are increasingly able to perform angioplasty to unblock blood vessels and implant stents to hold open weak arteries.
Lutheran Hospital has been recognized by national organizations for its expertise in performing heart-related procedures.
The American College of Cardiology in February awarded the hospital Cardiac Cath Lab Accreditation with PCI. Commonly called coronary angioplasty, percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI, is a nonsurgical procedure that improves blood flow to the heart.
Lutheran Hospital also received Heart Failure Accreditation from the American College of Cardiology earlier this year.
“Lutheran's team was assessed on its ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with heart failure through pre-hospital care, early stabilization, acute care, transitional care, clinical quality measures and more,” hospital officials said when they made the announcement.
Last September, the American College of Cardiology named Lutheran Hospital one of the first seven in the country to achieve the HeartCARE Center National Distinction of Excellence, the Washington, D.C.-based organization's highest recognition.
Thomas, the Lutheran spokesman, said the one-year designations are still in place.
Nicole Napoli, spokeswoman for the American College of Cardiology, on Friday confirmed that a heart transplant program isn't a requirement to qualify for the distinction of excellence.
“Only if they were to lose all of their cardiologists would they have to be re-evaluated,” she added.