Heart surgery bill gets new life

The proposal, which seeks to catch problems at children’s heart surgery programs, had stalled earlier in the session.
Sen. Gayle Harrell at a Florida Senate committee hearing.
Sen. Gayle Harrell at a Florida Senate committee hearing.
Published April 24, 2019

With the end of this year’s legislative session drawing near, the Florida Senate is making a final push to increase oversight of children’s heart surgeries.

Earlier this year, Sen. Gayle Harrell filed a bill that would let pediatric heart doctors make unannounced visits to struggling programs and recommend corrective action. But the proposal (SB 1126) stalled, and a companion bill in the House (HB 1207) was gutted in late March.

Last week, Harrell gave the measure new life by adding it to SB 7078. That bill covers a wide range of health care and health insurance issues, and includes a closely watched provision that would allow overnight stays at ambulatory surgery centers.

SB 7078 is now poised for a vote on the Senate floor. It would need the support of the Florida House to become law.

The session is scheduled to end next Friday.

The push to better regulate pediatric heart surgery programs follows a Tampa Bay Times

investigation that uncovered serious safety problems at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. In November, the Times reported that the mortality rate for heart surgery patients at the hospital had tripled in two years.

Harrell’s proposal seeks to expand the powers of the state Pediatric Cardiology Technical Advisory Panel, a group of pediatric heart doctors and surgeons that has been writing standards for programs across Florida. It would let the panel appoint physicians to inspect troubled programs. While on site visits, the physicians would be able to examine the facilities, interview employees and review mortality reports.

When asked Wednesday about putting the language back in play, Harrell smiled.

“I am just very positive on making sure that we take care of our children so I’m still working very hard,” the Stuart Republican said.

In addition, the Senate’s budget proposal includes a $150,000 allocation for the Pediatric Cardiac Technical Advisory Panel “to ensure compliance with quality and safety standards of pediatric cardiac hospitals.”

The House’s original budget proposal did not include any money for the panel, but budget negotiations are underway.