The ProPublica and Houston Chronicle project “Heart Failure” has been named a finalist for the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation’s Health Care Print Journalism Award.
Reported by ProPublica senior editor Charles Ornstein and Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, “Heart Failure” uncovered internal dysfunction and poor surgical outcomes at Baylor St. Luke’s in Houston, one of the nation’s most celebrated heart transplant hospitals, as well as research violations and undisclosed financial conflicts by one of its leading surgeons. The team analyzed data, reviewed reams of medical records and interviewed dozens of physicians, medical professionals and patients to tell the story of an iconic hospital that is no longer living up to its reputation. In recent years even as the hospital advertised its heart program in glowing terms — unexpected numbers of patients were dying and experiencing complications following heart transplants.
Within days of publication, a federal judge stepped down from St. Luke’s board of directors, and the hospital announced that it was temporarily suspending the heart program. It reopened two weeks later after making policy and staffing changes.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would cut off funding for heart transplants at St. Luke’s after concluding that the hospital had failed to make changes needed to improve outcomes. Later in the year, Medicare issued a separate citation for an operating room equipment failure that was revealed through our reporting. And after repeatedly defending the quality of the program, St. Luke’s replaced its lead surgeon, who had been accused of numerous medical errors, and hired a new executive to oversee all of its transplant programs.
Hannah Fresques, Olga Pierce and Matt Dempsey also contributed to the project.