The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has restarted its cardiac surgery program, roughly two months after the retirement of a lead surgeon led to its suspension.
Dr. Michael Nolen* and Dr. Kristofer Freeland, two physicians from the Arkansas Heart Hospital, began working part time at UAMS on July 2, said Leslie Taylor, UAMS vice chancellor of communications and marketing.
Another surgeon, Dr. Gamal Marey, will start working part time at UAMS as well as part time at Baptist Health Medical Center on Thursday. A fourth surgeon, Dr. Harry Kourlis, will join the staff in October, also while working part time at Baptist Health Medical Center.
"We had been working toward resuming everything that we did before," Taylor said.
All four physicians are working at UAMS on contract from the other institutions, Taylor said.
The Arkansas Times first reported the hirings Friday afternoon.
The program's suspension came days after the April 27 retirement of former lead surgeon Dr. Gareth Tobler.
In the following months, UAMS had one part-time cardiac surgeon, Dr. Aytekin Ozdemir. It diverted patients to other hospitals for major surgeries while still performing some procedures, including cardiac catheterization, stents and some aortic repairs. Ozdemir's time is split between UAMS and the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock.
"The decision was made to temporarily suspend the program because we didn't think it was feasible for this surgeon to work part time at UAMS and at the VA, and also be on call 24 hours a day to provide coverage for cardiac surgery," Taylor previously told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In January, UAMS laid off almost 260 employees to curb an anticipated $72.3 million deficit. The layoffs represented 5.5 percent of the hospital's 10,900 employees. Those layoffs included one full-time physician, according to Taylor.
The program's temporary shutdown did not affect the UAMS College of Medicine's teaching program, Taylor said, though students completed clinical work at other providers.
"It's important for the state's only academic medical center to have a cardiac program," Taylor said. "We're certainly very pleased to be able to recruit people of this caliber."
UAMS has also become the first and only health care provider in Arkansas to be certified as a comprehensive stroke center by The Joint Commission, an independent accrediting organization, the hospital announced Friday.
Strokes killed 1,643 people in Arkansas in 2016, ranking it fifth-highest in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Metro on 07/14/2018
*CORRECTINON: Dr. Michael Nolen is a physician who works at Arkansas Heart Hospital and UAMS Medical Center. His last name was misspelled in a previous version of this article.