Swedish CEO Guy Hudson wrote in a memo to staff members Wednesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is now among the agencies reviewing practices at the institute, based at the Cherry Hill campus in Seattle.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office has launched an investigation of Swedish Health’s neurosurgery unit, adding a new layer of scrutiny to a distinguished institute that was recently the subject of stories in The Seattle Times.

Swedish’s interim CEO, Dr. Guy Hudson, wrote in a memo to staff members Wednesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is now among the agencies examining practices at the facility.

“As with all regulatory reviews, we will cooperate fully to ensure that we are living our values and upholding the highest standards,” Hudson said in his message. In a statement to The Times, Hudson said the investigation will help Swedish understand the full extent of the issues “so we can quickly and thoroughly address them.”

A Swedish spokeswoman said she did not immediately have details about the scope of the federal inquiry, or whether it was a criminal or civil examination. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle declined comment.

A SEATTLE TIMES SPECIAL REPORT

Surgery was supposed to mean a better life for Talia. But something went wrong.

High volume, big dollars, rising tension at Swedish's Cherry Hill hospital

Swedish double-booked its surgeries, and the patients didn’t know

 

Ongoing coverage

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The Seattle Times published an investigation of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute last month, exposing turmoil and a range of internal concerns about patient care. The Times documented concerns among staffers about how some surgeons juggled multiple operations at the same time. And patient-safety indicators showed the Swedish-Cherry Hill campus, where the neuroscience institute is based, lagging behind peer hospitals on some measures.

The internal concerns had emerged amid dramatic growth in the number of surgeries and billings at the institute in recent years. In 2015, the Swedish-Cherry Hill campus had the highest Medicare reimbursements per inpatient visit of any U.S. hospital with at least 150 beds.

Over the past few weeks, in the fallout from The Times investigation, Swedish CEO Tony Armada resigned, as did the Swedish Neuroscience Institute’s top surgeon, Dr. Johnny Delashaw. State health regulators also have launched an investigation into the practices at Swedish-Cherry Hill.

Hudson, who was appointed interim CEO after Armada’s departure, apologized to staff in an interview last week, saying leaders had failed to act quickly enough on the concerns raised by caregivers. He said some staffers felt as if there was a culture of intimidation that punished those who tried to raise concerns.

Swedish operates as part of the Providence St. Joseph Health system, which encompasses 50 hospital campuses in seven states. Providence is headed by Dr. Rod Hochman, who was CEO of Swedish until 2012, when Providence and Swedish merged.

Hochman, in his first substantial remarks since The Times investigation, wrote to Swedish staffers on Tuesday to say that he has refrained from commenting to give Hudson “the space he needs to make the necessary decisions and take action to begin restoring accountable senior leadership and trust among our caregivers and the community.”

“Though you have not heard from me directly, Swedish has been very much on my mind,” Hochman wrote. “I care deeply about the organization and am painfully aware that this has been a difficult time for all of you.”

Swedish staffers have expressed frustration in recent days that Hochman hasn’t taken responsibility for some of the issues at Swedish. Delashaw, the workhorse surgeon who faced numerous internal complaints about his practices, was initially hired by Providence in 2013 and placed at Cherry Hill despite questions about his work that had surfaced in California.

Hochman said in his staff memo that Delashaw “was initially hired by our chief clinical officer at the time, not me.”

At the end of 2014, the neuroscience institute was looking for a new leader. Four people who attended a small meeting called by Hochman have said Hochman quashed discussion of a national search for a new leader and instead told surgeons the new leader would be chosen internally. Despite dozens of internal complaints about Delashaw, he was elevated to be the neuroscience institute’s leader.

At times, workers raised concerns about Delashaw to Hochman, according to records. Dr. Ralph Pascualy, then the chief executive of physicians at Swedish, confronted Hochman about Delashaw in a November memo that urged Hochman to take action.

“You are perceived as giving him special privilege and honor when he is held in extremely low regard by every other physician on the medical staff,” Pascualy wrote.