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Bill Would Create More Oversight At Children’s Heart Surgery Centers

Julio Ochoa/WUSF

Lawmakers are considering legislation this year that would provide more oversight of the state’s pediatric heart surgery centers.

Sen. Gayle Harrell filed her bill after problems were exposed at heart surgery programs at John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.

The bill would allow an advisory panel to oversee unannounced site visits to heart surgery centers in children’s hospitals throughout the state.

“Nothing is more important than our children and making sure that especially those most fragile of children who need cardiac surgery, they need to have the very best expert doing that surgery,” said Harrell, who is chairwoman of the Senates Health Policy Committee.

A group of physicians would be appointed by the panel and the Agency for Health Care Administration to conduct the visits. The physicians would inspect a hospital’s pediatric medical and surgical programs. They would be allowed to interview staff and review the hospital’s medical records, including death records.

Each physician would submit a report to the panel and the panel would then present recommendations to the Agency for Health Care Administration if improvements are needed.

Though the panel has been around for years, it did not have the power to conduct site visits. 

“This gives (the Agency for Health Care Administration) the ability to use the true professionals in the arena … to be able to really see what is going on inside those centers,” Harrell said. “You have to get those experts to go in and evaluate what is going on.”

Last year, The Tampa Bay Times ran a series of stories exposing problems and an increase in the patient death rate at All Children’s heart surgery unit. In 2015, CNN exposed similar problems at St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Harrell is seeking a sponsor in the House for her bill.

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