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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Lawmakers wisely approve oversight of pediatric heart surgeries

Every so often, a good idea that was cast aside is miraculously resurrected in the Florida Legislature. That happened this week as lawmakers sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis legislation that includes increased state oversight of pediatric heart surgeries. That was the responsible reaction following the deeply disturbing safety problems uncovered at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital that still have not been fully resolved.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation found the death rate for heart surgery patients at All Children's in St. Petersburg tripled between 2015 and 2017. The hospital stopped performing these surgeries in the fall, and it has overhauled its leadership and surgical teams. It also announced this week it has not yet corrected key problems identified by regulators and has entered an agreement with the federal government requiring it to take steps to avoid losing public funding.

Yet the Legislature initially fumbled even a modest attempt at increased state oversight. A House subcommittee in March deleted a provision that would let physician experts make unannounced visits to struggling programs. The revisions even would have shut down an advisory panel of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons that has been developing standards for evaluating programs throughout the state. That was clearly irresponsible and a political signal.

How things change. House Speaker Jose Oliva's misguided assaults on hospital regulation have been approved and are on their way to the governor. And the provisions for increased oversight of pediatric heart surgeries have magically reappeared in other legislation. The advisory panel survives. Teams of physician experts will make unannounced visits, interview staff, review records and report back to the state.

It's a small victory for common sense and for children and their families.

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