Saturday, March 7, 2009

Looking Back....OSF Suspends Haitian Hearts Program

Peoria Journal Star

January 7, 2003


OSF suspends Haitian Hearts program -- Hospital says group must pay $500,000 debt

PEORIA - OSF Saint Francis Medical Center is suspending its participation in the Haitian Hearts program until the organization pays $500,000 to The Children's Hospital of Illinois at St. Francis.

''The program is suspended at this point,'' St. Francis spokesman Chris Lofgren said Monday. ''The debt has to be taken care of, and Dr. John Carroll needs to follow procedures and work with physicians who are going to treat them before he leaves'' for Haiti to bring back more children.

Carroll plans to leave for Haiti today and said he does not know whether the American consulate will issue visas for the children.

Carroll and his supporters said the hospital's action is not in keeping with its mission and that of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. Those values do not limit care only to those who live in central Illinois, Carroll said.

''My hope would be that the sisters and their mission would override'' the decision, he said.

Carroll said Sunday he has up to 20 children in Haiti waiting for treatment. Once he locates children needing the delicate heart surgery not available in their country, he confers with physicians in Peoria before bringing children back, he said.

Carroll picketed the hospital Sunday and Monday to call attention to its actions.
He received a certified letter Friday stating the hospital contacted the American consulate in Haiti to say no visas should be issued ''without prior written approval from The Children's Hospital.'' That contact could disrupt the delicate procedures for obtaining visas for the sick children, Carroll said.

The letter to Carroll, from the Peoria law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, signed by its attorney Douglass Marshall, states, ''The consulate was surprised to learn that The Children's Hospital had not granted prior approval to you and had not agreed to provide care free of charge.''

But Carroll on Monday produced a form letter from The Children's Hospital signed by its executive director, Paul Kramer, stating the hospital ''will cover all costs for surgery and hospitalization.'' The letter allowed the date and name of the patient to be filled in, so that a visa could be obtained.

The form letter was last used in October, Carroll said, but apparently the hospital has revoked it.

Carroll and others also said they were not sure of the $500,000 figure St. Francis says Haitian Hearts owes. A committee of the organization has been auditing the bills and already has found three mistakes, he said.

''We don't get itemized bills,'' Carroll said. ''I've asked for itemized bills.''

Lofgren said itemized bills for each patient will be sent if the organization requests them. He also said the amount owed is actually higher than $500,000, though he conceded any items in a bill could be disputed.

Laurie Howard of Peoria, the adoptive mother of the first Haitian Hearts baby, is wary of St. Francis' figures.

''Haitian Hearts is raising money and has paid'' for the care, Howard said. ''They (St. Francis) definitely dealt a low, low blow'' to the Haitian Hearts program.
Lofgren disagrees.

''The program has not ended'' but is only suspended, he said. ''When these two things are taken care of - the debt and he meets with us prior to going - we're back in business.''

Carroll is a former St. Francis emergency room physician who worked at the hospital for 21 years. He was fired in December 2001.

Carroll said St. Francis actually makes a profit on Haitian Hearts patients, despite a 55 percent discount, because there is a difference between the hospital's actual costs and what it charges for services. Its costs are 30 percent of the listed price, he said, and Haitian Hearts pays 45 percent.

''It's higher than that,'' Lofgren countered, adding it's under 45 percent. ''You have to have extra money'' to pay for expenses and future expansion, he said.
The 55 percent discount for Haitian Hearts patients, Lofgren added, is the greatest given to any organization or group.

Lofgren stated Sunday that St. Francis and The Children's Hospital provided $34 million in uncompensated care for local and international children last year.

Haitian Hearts recently has applied for a $1 million health care award from a foundation, Carroll said, but added that the hospital's action could jeopardize that award.

Anne Wagenbach, coordinator of Haitian Hearts, questioned the hospital's motives.
''They're saying it's all financial. Is that really true? I don't know,'' she said.

CAPTION: Dr. John Carroll walks the sidewalk outside OSF Saint Francis Medical Center on Monday bearing a sign with a message for hospital administrators who contacted the American consulate in Haiti to voice concern over issuing visas for Haitian children seeking medical treatment at St. Francis. Carroll is a former emergency room physician at the hospital and a founder of Haitian Hearts, an organization which brings children from Haiti to Peoria for medical treatment.
Dr. John Carroll walks the sidewalk outside OSF Saint Francis Medical Center on Monday bearing a sign with a message for hospital administrators who contacted the American consulate in Haiti to voice concern over issuing visas for Haitian children seeking medical treatment at St. Francis. Carroll is a former emergency room physician at the hospital and a founder of Haitian Hearts, an organization which brings children from Haiti to Peoria for medical treatment.

My comments today, March 8, 2009:

1. I did leave for Haiti the day this article was published. And the American Consulate would not grant any visas for Haitian Hearts kids to travel to Peoria.

OSF had no choice but to "suspend" Haitian Hearts. This was a public relations nightmare for them.

The only thing left for OSF to do to try and get rid of us was to involve Bishop Daniel Jenky. And that would be OSF's next move.

2. While I was in Haiti evaluating many children with congenital and rheumatic heart disease, I did call multiple physicians at Children's Hospital of Illinois (CHOI) on a satellite phone that I carried with me. The physicians were very helpful and encouraged me to bring kids back to Children's Hospital of Illinois. On one occasion I was planning to take a baby with congential heart disease to another medical center in the United States, and the CHOI physician strongly recommended that I bring the baby to CHOI. I took his advice regarding this very sick baby and the baby did great with surgery at CHOI. On another occasion, I had an accepting hospital in another state for three Haitian Hearts children. A different CHOI physician told me to bring them to CHOI--not the other medical center.

The bottom line is I had a great working relationship and communication with the CHOI physicians regarding Haitian Hearts patients. I consulted them from Haiti via the satellite phone, attended the cardiac cath conferences at CHOI when the pediatric cardiologists and surgeons reviewed Haitian echocardiograms, scrubbed in or observed during their surgeries in the operating room, examined the child in the physician offices pre and post op, and I followed the children in the hospital by examining them everyday in intensive care at CHOI.

Chris Lofgren did not mention any of this. And after I was fired from OSF, Paul Kramer met with another OSF administrator to try and keep me out of surgery with the children. Paul Kramer and OSF were unsuccessful. I think they felt that the backlash from the host families would be too severe if OSF tried to keep me out of the operating room along with everything else OSF was doing to stop Haitian Hearts.

3. I was hoping Sister Judith Ann would come through...but she didn't. She had told me that OSF would never refuse a child for medical care. But now they were.

4. Douglass Marshall, OSF's attorney, would write me a letter in the coming year which would refuse all Haitian Hearts patients. And kids started dying.

5. As mentioned in a previous post, OSF cut all funding for Haitian Hearts in July, 2002. And we were responsible for 55 per cent of total charges, not 45 per cent of total charges as reported in the Journal. And if Haitian Hearts owed OSF money for Haitian surgeries, now we didn't have the $257,000 dollars that OSF had slashed to help pay. The reality is that OSF had no idea about the figure and had to say something in the Journal when I picketed the hospital. And they changed the figure every article until they "forgave" the debt because OSF didn't want anyone looking at their books.

6. The first day I protested in front of OSF, Patricia Gibson, the attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria came to my mother's home and met with my family (while I was picketing). She said that my protest was the right thing to do. Little did I know what was going to happen with the Diocese.

7. And contrary to what Chris Lofgren said in the article, Haitian Hearts had asked OSF for itemized bills in the fall of 2002. We never received an itemized bill from OSF after this request.

8. A glaring error made by OSF---Chris Lofgren should have never said that OSF needed to make some money for future expansion. They should not have tried to make money off of operating on some of the poorest kids in the world and charging us the way they did. Lofgren made a big mistake.

9. Anne Wagenbach was coordinator of Haitian Hearts and an OSF employee. Her quote at the bottom questioned OSF's motives. When Haitian Hearts did offer OSF full charges for Haitian Hearts patients in the years to come, the kids were still denied care at OSF. So I guess it wasn't all financial. (Incidentally, Keith Steffen threatened to sue Anne in his office at OSF.)

10. And Laurie Howard was quoted also. Laurie was an OSF employee too. Both Laurie and Anne were putting their jobs on the line to speak with the Journal Star. But Haitian kids lives were more important to them than were their jobs at OSF. Subsequently, Laurie was told by an assistant administrator that Paul Kramer wanted to talk with her in his office. Laurie smartly declined Mr. Kramer's invitation. (Neither Laurie nor Anne work for OSF in 2009.)

11. Well, OSF had to decide what to do now. It was time to call in The Catholic Diocese of Peoria for help.

The photo above is a Haitian child's heart at surgery. It is distended and blue in color at the start of surgery. At the end of surgery, it is much smaller, pinker, and much healthier. The child is doing very well now, thanks to modern technology, and the hand of the surgeon, and skilled post op care. This child was accepted by a medical center that has operated on OSF patients that OSF did not want any more.

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