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Lawmakers approve measure to catch pediatric heart surgery problems

The proposal, which would let teams of physician experts inspect struggling programs such as Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

TALLAHASSEE -- The state House of Representatives on Monday unanimously approved a bill to increase oversight of pediatric heart surgeries.

The proposal, which would let teams of physician experts inspect struggling programs, won the support of the Florida Senate earlier in the day. It is now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis for final approval.

The measure was proposed after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found the death rate for heart surgery patients at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital had tripled between 2015 and 2017.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation: Heartbroken

The hospital stopped performing the procedures in the fall and, after the stories ran, made major changes to its executive leadership and surgical teams.

“You’ve probably read about the problem with the pediatric cardiac program at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg,” Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, told the House. “Long story short, there were some very preventable medical errors.”

Beltran said he worked with Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, to create a "piece of policy to ensure the proper quality control would be in place.”

“Quality control is very difficult in this area,” Beltran said. “There’s only a couple dozen people in the state who really know about the issue.”

The original bill addressing pediatric heart surgeries had been gutted in the House in late March. But the measure was added to a different proposal (House Bill 843) late in the legislative session.

If signed into law, it would let the state’s Pediatric Cardiac Technical Advisory Panel help identify problems in heart surgery units across the state and recommend solutions. The panel was established in 2017 to create standards for the programs, but lacked the authority to step in when there were signs of trouble.

The panel would now be able to appoint physicians to make unannounced site visits. The physicians would have the power to interview employees, inspect the facilities and review medical records and reports, including death rates.

Harrell told the Times/Herald that she believed the House and Senate would also reach an agreement on the $150,000 she requested to help the panel ensure compliance with quality and safety standards.

“This is a huge win for the kids of Florida,” Harrell said. “We’re going to make sure they are safe and well cared for."