2 Oregon Health Systems Announce Competing Heart Transplant Programs

Mar 14, 2019
Originally published on March 14, 2019 5:08 pm

Not one, but two Oregon hospital systems announced Thursday that they’ll be running heart transplant programs.

Oregon hasn't had any since last September.

Providence Heart Institute said it received a $75 million dollar gift from Nike founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny Knight, to start a new program.

And Oregon and Health and Science University announced it’s going to reactivate its program, which was suspended last year. OHSU's heart program has been in limbo since last September after its last four cardiologists left in quick succession.

OHSU’s 400 heart patients were taken over by Providence. But the suspended program was a humiliation for both OHSU and the state in general, as the loss of Oregon’s only transplant program meant patients had to travel hundreds of miles to Seattle or San Francisco.

But now Providence St. Vincent is getting into the business. The medical director for the advanced heart failure program there, Dr. Jacob Abraham, is enthusiastic.

“Very exciting,” he said. “Particularly because of the donation from Phil and Penny Knight to help support this effort.”

Only six months since OHSU had to suspend heart transplants, healthcare observers wonder if Oregon can sustain two programs. Health experts also point out that to benefit from the expertise that comes with volume, a program should conduct at least 20 to 30 transplants a year.

“I think the population of Oregon is growing,” said Dr. Abraham. “Certainly there is a large heart failure population already here. I think that there’s certainly enough patients to keep both centers busy.”

However, leaders at both Providence and OHSU are holding out the possibility of forming a partnership of some kind.

“We continue to have conversations with our partners at OHSU,” said executive medical director of the Providence Heart Institute, Dan Oseran. “But we ultimately made the decision that either with or without them, we are going to go forward and start a program.”

Oseran has a willing partner in OHSU president Danny Jacobs.

“We’re happy to think about cooperation and partnership,” said Jacobs.

But if a partnership doesn’t come together, Jacobs says competition between two programs could be good.

OHSU hired outside experts to analyze why its program dissolved. But those findings have not been made public. In February, the university said it was actively recruiting cardiologists to restart.

Jacobs said they’ve now recruited two junior-level cardiology specialists who will start in the summer.

Meanwhile, heart failure patients are reacting to the news.

Elyce Wair, a retired Intel worker from Hillsboro, had a heart bypass surgery five months ago and works out with a lot of other heart patients at Providence.

She isn’t worried that there might be two programs  competing with each other.

“I’m so excited for Oregon,” said Wair. “It’s wonderful. All these people that I’ve met at my classes. You know we’re all eligible. You never know what’s going to happen to us. But it’s going to be so positive that we have qualified people right here, that can take care of that quickly.”

Providence will now have to figure out a way to pay for it’s first 10 transplants, to show regulators that it can do them successfully.

And in order to maintain it’s active status, OHSU will have to get fully staffed up by September.

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