Two talented heart doctors dismissed without cause and a $50,000 donation set aside for the wrong project have helped create a stir around
The controversy is rooted in concerns that
“This hospital could end up as a band-aid stand,” said hospital donor Keith Knight.
Like his South Walton neighbors, Knight, 82, appreciates the award winning standard of care he receives at Sacred Heart on the
“Everybody I talk to that’s my age is down here because of that hospital,” he said.
Community dedication stands out at the entranceway of the 58-bed hospital, recently named the state’s best for “patient engagement.” The wall is covered with plaques hung in appreciation for large donations.
The $30 million in donor dollars Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast has received since its founding in 1999 includes $5 million to open a heart and vascular unit capable of providing interventional care, said hospital president Roger Hall.
And the standard of care South Walton residents have come to expect isn’t going away, said Hall.
“This hospital will continue to grow and improve service,” Hall said. “We will continue to be a high quality hospital.”
But recent developments have caused some hospital boosters to fear for the future of the cardiac unit and the hospital’s autonomy.
A donation gone awry
Last December Knight and his wife RoseAnn presented a $50,000 check to Hall, specifying that the money be put toward the purchase of a heart monitor.
RoseAnn Knight, who suffers heart disease, has been under the care of the doctors in the cardio-vascular unit and had grown fond of interventional physicians Francis Le and Ajay Labroo.
But the heart monitor has yet to arrive and Drs. Le and Labroo were sent packing May 1 by Pensacola-based administrators of Sacred Heart Health Systems, the parent organization of Sacred Heart facilities in
“We wanted Le and Labroo to use that machine,” Knight said. “Now who the hell is going to use it?”
Further angering Knight, a receipt for his donation arrived with a note thanking him and his wife for a gift “to support the Bed Expansion at
Hall said Knight’s misplaced donation was simply a mistake.
“We clearly indicated that was an error,” Hall said. “We have those funds reserved and they will be spent for a monitor.”
He said problems in arranging the monitor’s purchase have delayed its arrival in South Walton.
A bigger issue seen
But Knight and others see something more upsetting than a simple error. He and others believe an effort is underway to dismantle the South Walton cardiac unit.
The move and what they say is a shift to make Pensacola the dominant hospital in the chain “could have serious long-term implications for the health of thousands of local residents and for our local economy,” said the letter from the three men, who are members of the region’s influential Institute of Senior Professionals.
Hospital officers in both
Mike Burke, a spokesman for Sacred Heart Pensacola, maintains that two cardiologists “continue to provide excellent care” for patients, adding that administrators are “actively recruiting new interventional cardiologists.”
State Senate President Don Gaetz, who received the letter, acknowledged its receipt and investigated some of the alleged concerns.
While supporting “a strong, credible medical presence in the community,” Gaetz replied that “changes in medical staff are not regulated by state law.”
The firing of Labroo and Le
Labroo was terminated Feb. 19 and given until June 19 to leave.
On April 21, Le received a letter signed by Sacred Heart Health Care System Medical Director Jim Ward ordering him to “discontinue all practice duties and vacate the office” by May 1.
At that time Labroo was also ordered to be out of his office by May 1, Le said.
“They even went so far as to change the lock combination to the office at 5 p.m. on April 30,” Le said. “Dr Labroo and I had to pack my office at 9 p.m. under the supervision of security guards.”
Labroo said bad feelings arose between him, Le, and the powers-that-be in
Sacred Heart of Pensacola wanted to consolidate its best cardiac doctors at the home office after a group called Cardiac Consultants was acquired by
“Cardiology makes money for hospitals,” he said. “When the heart group went to Baptist, (Ward) came to me and Dr. Le and said we needed to come to
Hall and Burke said Le and Labroo were dismissed due to a “contractual conflict.”
“For legal reasons that’s all we can discuss,” Hall said.
Sharing profits, guarding donations
When the decision was made to open a heart and vascular center at the Santa Rosa Beach facility, Hall said, the original idea was to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.
But it was decided to move aggressively to make the heart center an interventional facility and hire doctors that could perform all procedures short of open heart surgery.
“The community and our foundation helped us” raise the $5 million required, Hall said.
Hall and Leonard Olson, president of the Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast Foundation, are adamant that all donations made to the South Walton hospital stay with the hospital.
“We do not share those dollars,” Hall said. “I’m very selfish. I have a strong interest in this hospital. I can tell you I watch every penny.”
Hospital profits, however, are shared system-wide, according to Hall and Burke.
Hall acknowledged that his profitable hospital contributed last year to sustaining Sacred Heart Pensacola and others in the system that didn’t do as well.
“I’ve been with the system since 2002 and for the first time last year we broke even. We’d never done that poorly,” Hall said.
Hall added though, that there have been times when other members of the system have propped up Sacred Heart on the
“The first couple years we were here we didn’t break even,” he said. “They helped us.”