Jackson/UM’s renowned adult heart transplant program is abruptly suspended, pending review

There will be no more adult heart transplants until further notice at the Miami Transplant Institute, which is run jointly by Jackson Health System and UHealth, the University of Miami health system.

Jackson Health, in an email to the Miami Herald Tuesday evening, said it will not accept new patients during this time and that it’s working to transfer current patients to other locations. Its pediatric heart transplant program and its program to provide mechanical heart devices are not affected.

The heart transplant program’s abrupt suspension, which Jackson Health says was done voluntarily and is temporary, comes while the program undergoes a review by the United Network for Organ Sharing, also known as UNOS, which operates as the country’s organ transplant system under contract and oversight by the federal government.

Luke Preczewski, vice president of the Miami Transplant Institute, made the announcement of the suspension in a staff Zoom meeting Monday afternoon. In the meeting, he said there would be no public announcement. The Miami Herald learned of the suspension independently, prompting Jackson to acknowledge the shutdown.

A rendering of a renovated Jackson Memorial Hospital Diagnostic Testing Center, where the health system performs its organ transplants. (Photo provided by Jackson Health System)
A rendering of a renovated Jackson Memorial Hospital Diagnostic Testing Center, where the health system performs its organ transplants. (Photo provided by Jackson Health System)

UNOS manages two roles in the oversight process of transplant hospitals and organ procurement organizations: self-reporting and peer reviews, according to its website, and provides “data reports, tools and coaching to help members improve and avoid” undergoing regulatory oversight by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

UNOS said it could not discuss the review.

In its email to the Herald, Jackson Health confirmed it had “voluntarily placed its adult heart transplant program on temporary inactive status” while it undergoes “an in-depth review of our care.”

It’s unusual for hospitals to suspend or pause their transplant programs, with more than 100,000 people waiting for life-saving organs in the United States. A few heart transplant programs have previously shut down for a time due to staffing issues or poor success rates.

In 2018, for example, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland put its heart transplant program on hold for two weeks while working to replace three heart failure transplant cardiologists. And in June 2018, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center temporarily suspended its renowned heart transplant program after the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica investigated the departure of several key doctors and an unusual number of patient deaths, according to the Associated Press.

“We will reinstate the program after a thorough assessment and a clear plan to recruit additional world-class clinicians in the same way we have built globally admired transplant programs for other organs,” Jackson said in the emailed statement. “Our pediatric heart transplant program is not affected by this decision, nor is our program to provide mechanical heart devices. The quality of care and personal experience of our patients, families, donors, and clinicians are our guiding principles for this partnership between Jackson Health System and UHealth-University of Miami Health System.”

UHealth declined to comment.

The Miami Transplant Institute, which opened in 1970 and is considered one of the top transplant centers in the United States, is housed on Jackson’s main campus in Miami and relies on UM doctors to provide care.

In 2019, the institute performed 747 procedures, more than any other transplant center in the United States, setting “a record for most transplants performed in a year by any center since the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network — a panel of medical professionals, transplant recipients and donor families that develops national organ transplantation policy — started tracking the procedures,” as the Herald has previously reported.

In 2022, the institute performed 17 heart transplants, 12 of which were in adults, according to data collected by the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network. The institute has done 785 heart transplants in adults and children from 1988, when the network first began tracking transplants, through Feb. 28, 2023. Of those, 697 were in adults.

Roughly a dozen other Florida hospitals operate transplant programs for various organs. In South Florida, they include Memorial Regional of Hollywood, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, part of Memorial Healthcare System, and Cleveland Clinic in Weston.

In spring 2021, the University of Miami reached an agreement with the Justice Department over fraudulent billing of millions of dollars to the Medicare program involving unnecessary transplant lab tests and inflated doctors’ fees.

The agreement, the result of allegations in whistleblower lawsuits, required UM to pay about $22 million to the federal government, with half of that total going to Medicare, and a separate $325,000 to the state, with half of that going to the Medicaid program for the indigent. Jackson was required to pay $1.1 million to the federal government, according to the agreement.

READ MORE: UM agrees to pay millions to settle Medicare fraud allegations raised by whistle-blower

In a statement at the time, the university said the agreement resolved nearly decade-old claims “stemming from certain past administrative practices, including billing notices at UHealth’s outpatient clinics and lab testing protocols at its transplant center.”

School officials said “UHealth’s best-in-class quality of care was never in question.“