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From Our CEO: Change in our Cardiac & Thoracic Surgery Program

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From Our CEO Gary Herbst: Change in our Cardiac & Thoracic Surgery Program

In 1996, Kaweah Health (then Kaweah Delta) launched its inaugural cardiac and thoracic surgery program through a partnership with the Starr-Wood Cardiac Group of Portland, Oregon. Dr. Albert Starr, a world-renowned cardiac surgeon, personally oversaw the development of our program, including the recruitment of lead cardiac and thoracic surgeon Dr. Frederick Mayer, M.D. Dr. Mayer came to us from San Diego where he was part of the naval healthcare system.

Over the years, our program grew in size and reputation. In the year 2000, just four years after the launch of our program, we were named one of the Top 100 cardiac surgery programs in the nation.

Dr. Mayer expanded the depth and breadth of his medical group through the recruitment and hiring of Drs. Sergio Caminha and Leheb Araim as well as other cardiac and thoracic surgeons. We also brought Dr. Byron Mendenhall, cardiac anesthesiologist, to our community and would later add Dr. Brad Bachar, cardiac anesthesiologist. Complemented by outstanding Kaweah Health employees supporting our cardiac ORs, cardiac intensive care unit, and cardiac telemetry units, we truly became a sought-after cardiac surgery program for patients up and down the Valley.

Unfortunately, approximately ten years ago, we decided to end our relationship with the Starr-Wood Group and said good-bye to Dr. Mayer. We immediately created a new cardiac surgery group known by the name Golden State Cardiac & Thoracic Surgery Medical Group. Drs. Caminha and Araim served as the principal owners and surgeons of this new group.

With the impending retirement of Dr. Caminha in September 2020, Kaweah Health and Golden State recruited Dr. Gonzalo Carrizo from Florida where he was part of the Cleveland Clinic Cardiac Surgery program. Dr. Carrizo joined us in December 2019 as a locum tenen physician until he officially became part of Golden State in February 2020.

We are extremely proud of having been named by Health Grades as one of the nation’s Top 50 cardiac surgery programs for the past four years in a row. This is attributable to the efforts and accomplishments of the entire cardiovascular team—surgeons, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, critical care physicians and staff.

Their dedication and commitment to our program has been constant and unwavering. However, the one constant we all know in healthcare and in life is “change”—some perceived as good and some not-so-good; some clearly expected and understood and some unexpected and not understood. When our leaders make decisions that result in change, we ask all of you to have trust and confidence in us and to support those decisions, which isn’t always easy.

This is my long way of leading up to this announcement that we have decided to end our relationship with Golden State Cardiac & Thoracic Surgery Medical Group and once again go in a different direction. But, in this particular circumstance, our direction is full circle.

For the past year, Golden State has been working with Dr. Mayer as a locum tenen physician, filling in when Drs. Araim or Carrizo are on vacation or are otherwise unavailable. While Dr. Mayer has always remained a resident of our community since 1996, it has been great to see him return to Kaweah Health and be welcomed with such open arms by our physicians and staff.

Our agreement with Golden State will officially end on January 15, 2022. Beginning the next day, Dr. Mayer will resume leadership of our cardiac surgery program. Dr. Mayer has agreed to lead the program over the next one to two years as we rebuild and recruit new, permanent cardiac surgeons to our community. In the meantime, Dr. Mayer will be supported by other locum tenen cardiac surgeons but we may also need to temporarily transfer more cardiac surgery patients than normal to other programs, depending on Dr. Mayer’s bandwidth.

I know that Drs. Araim and Carrizo, along with other physicians and staff, will be disappointed in this decision but I again ask for your trust and support. I also ask that you join me in thanking and expressing deep appreciation to Drs. Araim and Carrizo for their years of dedicated service. We wish them nothing but success in the future and will do everything possible to make this a smooth transition. Thank you. Gary.