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Report: Officials Missed Warning Signs About Hospital

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Lawmakers want to know why state and federal health investigators missed warning signs about problems in the heart surgery program at a Florida children's hospital.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the state Agency for Health Care Administration cited Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital for not properly disclosing two serious medical errors. But it didn't impose any fines or act on subsequent warnings.

The newspaper says federal investigators performed a review of transplants, but left a broader review up to a private organization that keeps the details of its inspections secret.

A Times analysis shows the death rate for heart surgery patients at All Children's tripled between 2015 and 2017. The hospital's Heart Institute performed worse in 2017 than any pediatric heart surgery program in Florida had in the past decade.

"We are particularly disappointed that inadequate regulatory oversight appears to have contributed to prolonging the pain and suffering for patients and their loved ones at All Children's Hospital," Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist wrote in a letter to the federal agency that oversees health care funding.

Medical professionals had raised safety concerns as early as 2015, but the hospital's administration waited more than a year to stop taking the most complicated cases. Even after that, many surgeries went wrong, according to the Times.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, called the increase in deaths "extremely concerning" in a statement and said he would be looking into its cause.

A hospital spokeswoman wouldn't comment.

Approached outside a public meeting Tuesday, All Children's CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen kept walking. "No way I'm talking to you," he told a Times reporter.

Regulators have known about issues at the hospital's Heart Institute since at least April, when the Times reported that surgeons had left needles in the chests of two patients.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who chairs the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said the state agency could have gone deeper in its examination of the hospital.

"They regulate hospitals," Bean said. "This happened at a hospital. It's their purview."