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All Children's Hospital Brings Back Top Surgeon To Restore Heart Unit

Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital could face a total of $804,000 in penalties from the state Agency for Health Care Administration.
Julio Ochoa
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg is bringing back a prominent heart surgeon, calling it the “first step” to restoring its shuttered heart institute.

Dr. James Quintessenza will return as chief surgeon and co-director of the heart institute, which stopped performing surgeries this past year amid fallout from a Tampa Bay Times investigation that found serious problems with the department.

Quintessenza had worked at the hospital for 26 years, including 19 as medical director and chief of pediatric cardiac surgery, until he left in 2016 and took a similar job at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. That was five years after Johns Hopkins took over All Children’s, and Quintessenza was reportedly pushed out over disagreements with the hospital’s new leaders.

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After he left, death and complication rates at the heart institute spiked. The Times investigation, published last November, found the department’s 2017 mortality rate was higher than any other children’s heart surgery program in Florida over the past decade.

According to the report, Quintessenza had historically handled the unit’s most difficult surgeries, but after the Johns Hopkins takeover those operations were divided among several surgeons. The story partially attributed that change and Quintessenza’s ultimate departure to the increased deaths.

In the year that's followed the investigation, All Children’s suspended heart surgeries, saw six top hospital officials resign and brought in a team of national experts to determine how to salvage the program.

Hospital officials said in a press release that Quintessenza’s return follows an “extensive” national search for a new leader and is the “first step in a phased process of restarting the Heart Institute in line with the recommendations of the external experts.”

“I am delighted to be returning home to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, a remarkable institution where I was proud to serve for more than 25 years,” Quintessenza said in a statement.

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Dr. Bill Greeley led the team of experts consulting All Children’s and has also accepted a position as Deputy Director of the Heart Institute during the transition process.

“Over the last year, my team and I conducted a thorough and comprehensive clinical review of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Heart Institute,” Greeley said in the release. “Following this review, I can unequivocally say that this is a program worth investing in to make sure that it can serve the children and families of Tampa Bay with the highest quality pediatric cardiac care.

The hospital said it will hire more doctors and staff over the next year, including for intensive care and pediatric, interventional and fetal cardiology.

Quintessenza will start in February.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.