Three additional senior administrators have left Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times investigation into high mortality rates at the hospital’s Heart Institute, the hospital announced Wednesday.
A total of six senior officials have left since the Times report, including the hospital’s CEO, three vice presidents and two surgeons who held leadership roles at the Heart Institute. A seventh official stepped down as chairman of the surgery department but remained employed at the hospital as a doctor.
The resignations announced Wednesday included vice presidents Dr. Brigitta Mueller, the hospital’s chief patient safety officer, and Sylvia Ameen, who oversaw culture and employee engagement and served as the hospital’s chief spokeswoman.
The hospital also said Dr. Gerhard Ziemer, who started as the Heart Institute’s new director and chief of cardiovascular surgery in October, would leave the hospital. The hospital never publicly announced Ziemer had been hired, and he had not yet obtained his Florida medical license when the Times investigation was published at the end of November. At that point, the hospital said the Heart Institute had already stopped performing surgeries.
“While Dr. Ziemer is not responsible for the current state of the program, we agreed that a fresh start was needed to ensure success for the program,” Johns Hopkins Health System President Kevin Sowers said in a letter to the hospital’s staff.
Reached by phone, Ziemer said the separation was “not my idea.”
“When a major management decides that they want to pursue the future without you, then you agree,” he said.
Mueller and Ameen could not be reached for comment.
The Times investigation found that after Johns Hopkins took over All Children’s in 2011, the hospital’s heart surgery program got dramatically worse. The death rate for children who underwent heart surgery tripled from 2015 to 2017, according to a Times analysis. In 2017 it had the highest rate of any pediatric heart surgery program in Florida.
The Times also reported that frontline workers had warned their supervisors that procedures were putting kids at risk in 2015. But hospital leaders waited more than a year to stop performing some complex surgeries.
Johns Hopkins declined to make Sowers available for an interview. In addition to leading the health system, Sowers was named interim president of All Children’s three weeks ago, when Dr. Jonathan Ellen, the prior CEO, resigned.
In his letter to the staff, Sowers said that several hospital executives had been tasked with leading “critically important work around advancing our culture of safety.”
“As we work to rebuild the trust of our community, we must also work to fully embrace and support a culture where we are each empowered and encouraged to speak up and speak out if we see or hear something that concerns us,” he wrote. “This commitment applies to clinical concerns as well as inappropriate workplace behavior.”
Sowers also announced that Johns Hopkins had hired external experts to develop a plan to restart heart surgeries at All Children’s.
That is a separate effort from an external review of the problems in the Heart Institute, which Johns Hopkins announced its board had commissioned last month, spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said.
Hoppe did not answer a question asking whether the review’s findings would be made public, but repeated a statement from December that said the hospital would “share the lessons learned” so that “hospitals around the country can learn from and avoid the mistakes that were made.”
Johns Hopkins is one of the most prestigious brands in medicine and is internationally renowned for developing innovative patient safety protocols that are used at hospitals across the world. But last weekend, the Times published a story detailing a series of safety problems at hospitals across its network. In response, the health system pledged to “do better.”
Sowers, in his letter, said Johns Hopkins “remains proud of and deeply committed to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.”
“I am confident that, together, we will write a new chapter for our hospital and our health system as we continue to serve our community and patients with excellence and integrity,” he wrote.
Read the full announcement:
I write to you today to make you aware of additional leadership transitions at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Effective immediately, I have accepted the resignations of Dr. Brigitta Mueller, chief patient safety officer and vice president of medical affairs, and Sylvia Ameen, vice president of marketing, communications and culture/physician engagement.
In addition, after discussing the future of the Heart Institute with Dr. Gerhard Ziemer, who was appointed in August as director of the Heart Institute and chief of cardiovascular surgery, we have mutually agreed to a separation. While Dr. Ziemer is not responsible for the current state of the program, we agreed that a fresh start was needed to ensure success for the program. We wish him well in his future endeavors.
Now we must focus on stabilizing our teams and our programs. To that end, Dr. George Jallo, M.D., medical director of the Institute for Brain Protection Sciences, chief of pediatric neurosurgery, interim vice dean and physician-in-chief, Melissa Macogay, M.B.A., B.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.N-K, N.E-B.C, vice president and chief nursing officer and Angela Green, Ph.D, R.N., C.P.H.Q., F.A.H.A., F.A.A.N., senior director of patient safety and quality, have graciously stepped in to lead critically important work around advancing our culture of safety. Angela will also serve as the interim patient safety officer. Dr. Joseph Perno, M.D., M.B.A, vice chairman of the department of medicine, will serve as interim vice president of medical affairs. Finally, Kim Hoppe, director of public relations and corporate communications for Johns Hopkins Medicine, will oversee the Marketing and Communications team on an interim basis.
As a first step toward rebuilding our heart program, I am pleased to announce that a team of external experts led by Dr. Bill Greeley has agreed to consult with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital physicians and staff members on assessing all elements of the Heart Institute from a clinical perspective in order to help us determine the resources required and an appropriate timeline to start the program back up safely and with a commitment to excellence.
Dr. Greeley is the former president of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Practice Association (CHOPPA) and president of the medical staff at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Prior to these appointments, Dr. Greeley served as chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at CHOP. He also held a faculty appointment as professor of anesthesiology, critical care and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Greeley is a professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at Duke School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, where he served as chief of the Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology and Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Duke University.
Dr. Greeley will be joined by Dr. Scott Bradley from the Medical University of South Carolina and Dr. Bill Mahle, division director of cardiology in the department of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine.
Since 1995, Dr. Bradley has served with distinction at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he helped build the university’s successful and widely respected pediatric cardiothoracic program. He is a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the Congenital Heart Surgeons Society, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association and the American Surgical Association. He sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and Pediatric Cardiology and is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles.
In addition to his clinical expertise, for more than a decade Dr. Mahle has served as the medical director of the heart transplant and heart failure service at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Since 2015, he has been the president of Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, the section chief of cardiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Egleston campus and served on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Physician Leadership Council. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
I hope you will join me in welcoming Dr. Greeley, Dr. Bradley and Dr. Mahle to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Johns Hopkins Medicine remains proud of and deeply committed to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. This is a beloved and respected institution. Every day, you deliver essential care to our patients and do so with compassion and excellence. As we work to rebuild the trust of our community, we must also work to fully embrace and support a culture where we are each empowered and encouraged to speak up and speak out if we see or hear something that concerns us. This commitment applies to clinical concerns as well as inappropriate workplace behavior. Johns Hopkins Medicine has a hotline dedicated to receiving concerns from anyone in the Johns Hopkins Health System. The hotline is staffed by a third-party vendor who sends information they receive to a Johns Hopkins Medicine team that includes representatives from the patient safety, legal and human resources departments. If you have a concern about patient safety, discrimination or harassment, misconduct, illegal or unethical behavior, or anything else, please call 1-844-SPEAK2US. The line is open 24/7. If you choose, you may remain anonymous. You may also file HERO reports or contact the Risk Management division at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital at 727-767-8959.
I met many of you as I rounded over the past several weeks and look forward to meeting more of you. I am impressed by your dedication and truly moved by your honesty and courage. I am confident that, together, we will write a new chapter for our hospital and our health system as we continue to serve our community and patients with excellence and integrity.
Kevin W. Sowers, M.S.N., R.N., F.A.A.N.
President, Johns Hopkins Health System
Executive Vice President, Johns Hopkins Medicine