Jewish Hospital to suspend pioneering heart transplant program

A photo showing two surgeons during a heart transplant. Jewish Hospital will suspend the program next month.

A photo from the state’s first heart transplant, completed by a team at Jewish Hospital in 1984. The hospital will suspend the program next month. | Courtesy of KentuckyOne Health

Jewish Hospital said it will suspend its pioneering heart transplant program in August because of low availability of hearts and an exodus of cardiologists.

As Insider Louisville reported on July 11, the transplant program is in trouble, as surgical teams at the downtown facility have performed only one heart transplant in the first six months of the year, significantly below federal requirements.

Health experts have told Insider that a loss of the transplant program, which performed the state’s first heart transplant in 1984, would make it more difficult for local patients to get life-extending transplants.

The experts also said that the loss could have far-reaching consequences for Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville, including the departures of transplant staff and related subspecialties and loss of prestige, federal funding, accreditation and medical residency spots.

A portrait of Dr. Ron Waldridge

Dr. Ron Waldridge

Jewish Hospital President Dr. Ronald Waldridge said in a “special announcement” Thursday that the hospital would voluntarily place the heart transplant program on “long-term inactivation” effective Aug. 17.

The inactivation can last up to 12 months, at which point the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services and the United Network for Organ Sharing “must approve the plan for the program to reactivate,” Waldridge said.

“Jewish Hospital Transplant Care will assist all patients (including those on the waitlist, in evaluation and recently transplanted) in transferring their care to another transplant center,” he said. “Though our heart transplant program will not be able to perform transplants or take new physician referrals, we will continue to provide physician coverage to manage care of our current heart transplant program patients.”

“Please know that this has not been an easy decision,” Waldridge said.

KentuckyOne Health, which owns the hospital, and the University of Louisville could not be reached immediately to provide additional information.

Waldridge emphasized in his statement that the suspension of the heart transplant program would not affect other solid organ transplant programs provided at Jewish Hospital, although the numbers for those, too, have declined this year.

Jewish Hospital, along with related facilities has been losing more than $1 million per week. The hospital’s owner, KentuckyOne Health, has been trying to sell the facility, together with eight others in Louisville, since May 2017.

When yearlong exclusive negotiations with a potential buyer did not conclude in a deal last year, the university in December intervened to try to find a partner to acquire the properties, primarily to save Jewish Hospital. The university abandoned that effort last month.

This story may be updated.