Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
There’s been a major shakeup at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Tampa, FL, after a scathing report was published in the local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The media investigation uncovered “dramatic increases” in mortality rates for heart surgeries performed at that hospital. In response, the CEO, Dr. Jonathan Ellen, as well as two other hospital administrators, VP Jackie Crain and surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, have resigned.
Later, it was announced that another physician, Dr. Paul Colombani, who was chair of the department of surgery, also stepped down. All four officials have also been scrubbed from the hospital website.
According to the report, at least eight different hospital employees spoke with supervisors, beginning in 2015, about concerns they had related to surgeries at the hospital. Of these, several told the media they shared those concerns directly with Colombani. The report was explicit and detailed, connecting those who resigned with serious negative outcomes for patients.
In addition, the report stated that hospital leadership either ignored or overlooked these warnings, despite two specific physicians coming up, time and again, in co-worker complaints or concerns. At present, none of the four officials who resigned is speaking to the media. However, the health system’s PR team released this statement:
“The events described in recent news reports are unacceptable… We will share the lessons learned from that review to ensure that Johns Hopkins, Johns Hopkins All Children’s and other hospitals around the country can learn from and avoid the mistakes that were made… Losing a child is something no family should have to endure, and we are committed to learning everything we can about what happened at the Heart Institute, including a top-to-bottom evaluation of its leadership and key processes…”
That’s a good beginning, but the real message the hospital is up against isn’t “avoiding mistakes” or “not listening to concerns.” The narrative facing officials at the hospital system is simple, blunt, and tragic: “11 Dead Children.”
That’s the message the media is leading with, and it’s one that countless local consumers are grabbing onto the first time they hear it. Now, local congressional representatives are getting involved, effectively escalating this situation for all involved. And the message they’re hearing is coming from people like Sandra Vazquez, whose son died after heart surgery in 2017: “Hopefully, children won’t continue dying… For many families it’s too late, but other children can be saved.”
Faced with that, questions of “who knew what” and “when did they know” are subsumed by anger, fear, and demands for accountability that the hospital will have to answer. In the meantime, many great doctors and medical staff still work there, every day, trying to save lives in dire circumstances. As hospital leadership works to deal with this PR crisis, they would do well to give those people a voice.
About the Author: is CEO of NYC based PR agency 5WPR.