Several leaders from a Johns Hopkins-affiliated children's’ hospital in Florida submitted their resignations Tuesday following a year-long investigation by the Tampa Bay Times that revealed a high rate of devastating injuries and death among the center’s young patients.
The investigation, published in November, found that last year one in 10 patients died and others were left with extensive injuries after surgery in the Heart Institute, a center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Peterburg, Fla., dedicated to children with heart defects.
The hospital had warnings from staff going back to 2015 that some surgeons may not have been fit to perform complex or even more routine procedures, according to the investigation.
Officials from Hopkins, which took over the hospital in 2010, vowed not to resume open heart surgeries until certain of its standards. In a letter sent to staff Tuesday, Keven W. Sowers, who took over as president of the Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine in late 2017, said he will go to Florida from Baltimore and lead the hospital temporarily.
“The leadership transition announced today marks a new chapter as we work to earn back the trust of the children, families and community we serve,” said the letter from Sowers.
“We are devastated when children suffer. Losing a child is something no family should have to endure, and we are committed to learning everything we can about what happened at the Heart Institute, including a top-to-bottom evaluation of its leadership and key processes. The events described in recent news reports are unacceptable.”
The Johns Hopkins Medicine board commissioned an external review and plans to share “lessons learned” with All Children’s and other hospitals. Two other surgical leaders already at the Florida hospital, Dr. George Jallo and Dr. Paul Danielson, will take over top positions on an interim basis.
Stepping down were Dr. Jonathan Ellen, president, vice dean and physician-in-chief of All Children’s, and three others, including a surgeon highlighted in the Times probe.
The Heart Institute had been seeking to grow in size and prestige in recent years, but the Times used extensive interviews with current and former employees and family members of those treated there and a decade’s worth of billing records to show the high level of poor outcomes.
Some children suffered complications such as infections that regulators now consider preventable or more unusual issues such as needles lost inside infants, bursting sutures and failing patches for holes in tiny hearts, the investigation found. The hospital’s mortality rate for heart surgery patients tripled from 2015 to 2017, becoming the highest for such units in Florida.
Parents had said they chose the hospital based on it reputation and the name of Hopkins, known in medical circles for innovation in patient safety. None has sued the Florida hospital.