CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (WCMH) – A Chillicothe hospital is no longer offering heart surgery for the time being, and has fired two cardiac surgeons.
A spokesman for Adena Health confirmed that two cardiac surgeons were let go from Adena Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in the south central Ohio region which serves hundreds of thousands of rural patients.
The spokesman would not provide details on why the surgeons were fired, but families told NBC4 they believe their loved ones would still be alive today if not for those doctors.
About two weeks before she died, Joan Mahley, 74, danced across a stage with her local rotary club. Weeks earlier, the grandmother had suffered a heart attack but bounced back quickly.
Mahley’s daughter, Melanie Green, credits a cardiac surgeon who still works at Adena Health for Mahley’s successful heart surgery that cleared three blockages.
“She wanted to go to Bible study the day she came home (from the hospital),” Green recalled. “I’m pretty sure they canceled Bible study so she wouldn’t have a reason to go. That’s how much everybody thought of her because they knew she wasn’t going to stay down.”
In late April, Mahley needed a second surgery performed by a different doctor: a bypass for two more blockages on the other side of her heart.
“They would be able to do the bypass robotically,” Green said, adding that her mother was drawn to the idea of less recovery time than traditional open-heart surgery.
The day of the procedure, Mahley’s family waited for hours outside the operating room.
“We stopped getting updates,” Green said. “Four hours went past, five hours went past, five-and-a-half — almost six hours. So we get back to the nurse’s station and we asked, ‘What’s going on?'”
Green said more than eight hours after what was supposed to be a three-and-a-half hour surgery began, the surgeons told the family that there was a complication.
“He said that they had gotten in there and one of the instruments they use to hold your heart down while they’re doing the robotic procedure tore her heart, and she was bleeding a lot,” Green said.
Green and her sister visited their mother every day after the surgery, as Mahley complained of breathing problems.
“She was sat up in bed. She had an oxygen mask on, she was breathing. She was speaking, she was awake. She sounded weak, but she was seemingly– she was alive,” Green said.
Mahley’s medical records, shared by her family with NBC4, show that doctors intubated her a few days after the bypass to address her breathing issues. The records reveal that Mahley’s trachea was torn and that she needed surgery to save her life.
During the procedure to repair her trachea, doctors discovered something else had gone wrong.
“(We) found out that they had tore her femoral artery, too,” Green said.
The records show that Mahley received an additional surgery to repair the artery. Green said Mahley never woke up, and the family made the decision to remove her from life support days after the final surgery.
“I just kept going back there again. If we would have taken her to Columbus, if we would have looked for a second opinion, rather than trust in this guy that we didn’t know that she had never seen before– that we trusted him with taking care of her — fixing her, she’d still be here,” Green said.
Penny Gunter and Kathy Schaffner also blame the same surgeons for the death of their mother, Linda Montgomery.
“You trust them,” Gunter said. “It’s one of those things now where it’s like, do you trust a doctor?”
Montgomery was rushed to Adena’s emergency room in October after suffering an apparent diabetic seizure. Doctors discovered the 73-year-old also needed triple bypass surgery.
Montgomery’s medical records, also shared with NBC4 by her family, say she tolerated the surgery well and was brought to the intensive care unit in stable condition. Her daughters said they were kept waiting late into the night before they could see her.
“She was on a ventilator, hooked to all kinds of machines,” Gunter said. “They never told us about the stroke. He didn’t tell us about, you know, all the bleeding.”
Montgomery died in a nursing home the day after Thanksgiving after an agonizing month. Schaffner said she and her sister were both with her mother as she took her last breath.
“Nobody wants to watch a parent go through what we’ve watched our parent go through,” Schaffner said.
Like Mahley’s family, Montgomery’s family said they could not afford an autopsy, but later learned troubling details from their mother’s medical record.
X-ray reports from the day after Montgomery’s surgery reference a missing needle that may have been left in her chest.
“I was in shock. I was like– OK, first of all, I can’t believe they actually put this in here. And second of all, how does this happen?” Schaffner said.
Patrick Higgins, the Adena spokesman, said the hospital has no comment on any of the allegations.
An internal memo sent to Adena’s staff by hospital leadership Thursday, shared with NBC4, said Adena’s cardiac surgery program was suspended after an internal review. The memo said an outside firm is also assessing the program.
Higgins confirmed that the firm, HealthLinx, had been at the hospital for roughly a week as of Friday and the assessment was ongoing. He could not share why the assessment or review were initiated.
The spokesman said the hospital is still offering cardiac interventional services. Patients can still go to Adena for emergency and non-surgical cardiac care. The hospital is referring all cardiac surgeries, including ones already scheduled, to OSU.
Adena Regional Medical Center released a statement following an NBC4 Investigates report about the hospital’s cardiac surgery program.
Friday’s report stated that the Chillicothe hospital had paused the program and fired two of its doctors. Prior to the story’s airing and publication, Adena had declined to comment on allegations of botched cardiac procedures performed by the doctors who were no longer with the hospital.
A post on the Adena Health website says it’s true that the hospital paused its cardiac surgery program, but the surgeons’ departures were a mutual decision.
Multiple sources said they were fired, and NBC4 stands by that reporting.
The statement touted the program’s growth and success, citing mortality statistics that were not updated since 2021, before those surgeons started working at Adena.
“Because of the considerable growth of the program, Adena Health brought in the consulting group HealthLinx to evaluate how the care teams work together. We saw opportunities for improvement in efficiency,” the statement said. “We paused the program so we could reevaluate operations and ensure that when the program is reinstated, we can continue to provide excellent quality for our patients in southern Ohio.”
The hospital has not given a timeline for reinstatement.
When asked to clarify why a hospital would suspend a successful, growing program and overhaul its leadership, a spokesman responded but wouldn’t answer that question.