‘Superstar’ surgeon arrived in Miami with fanfare, but parts quietly with hospital

Dr. Allan Stewart arrived in Miami from New York City last summer to much fanfare stirred by his new employer, Baptist Health South Florida, the largest non-profit hospital system in the region.

Stewart, a board certified cardiothoracic surgeon, was named the chief of cardiac surgery for Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute in June 2018 — a new hire that the hospital system promoted heavily with ads on the radio, in newspapers and glossy marketing videos.

“Dr. Stewart brings an impressive combination of clinical proficiency, teaching experience and groundbreaking research to this important leadership position,” Dr. Barry T. Katzen, founder and chief medical executive of Baptist Health’s cardiac institute, said at the time.

Recruited from Mount Sinai Health System in New York, Stewart was heralded by Baptist Health as a pioneer in transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a minimally invasive procedure that repairs heart valves, and a highly experienced doctor who has performed thousands of open heart surgeries.

In less than a year with Baptist Health, Stewart developed an international practice at the cardiac institute.

But as suddenly as Stewart arrived in Miami, he has parted ways with Baptist Health — a break that raises questions about the reasons for Stewart’s separation and the opaque system of physician-hospital relationships that leaves many patients in the dark.

Baptist Health declined to verify whether Stewart was still employed by the hospital system.

“Dr. Allan Stewart is not currently seeing patients at Baptist Health,” Dori Alvarez, a hospital spokeswoman, said in a written statement.

Reached on his cell phone, Stewart said he was in mediation with Baptist Health and declined to give details about his status.

“We have differences of opinion,” he said.

Stewart initially stated that he “may be coming back,” but when asked directly whether he was still employed by Baptist Health, he said, “I’m still part of the health system.”

Baptist Health’s website, though, tells a different story. It has been scrubbed of an earlier news release announcing Stewart’s hiring, and he no longer appears under Baptist Health’s online physician search system.

A receptionist who answered the phone at Stewart’s advertised office number on Monday said in Spanish that “he is no longer with Baptist.”

Hospitals and doctors often part ways quietly, sometimes to avoid litigation or having to report disciplinary action.

There is no suggestion that Stewart’s separation from Baptist Health is related to his performance or behavior, but the secrecy surrounding the break-up — especially after a much heralded recruitment — hurts patients, said Dr. Antonio Mesa, president-elect of the Dade County Medical Association.

He said the aggressive marketing of a physician builds expectation among patients who may have waited months for an appointment, and possibly passed up a chance to see another cardiac surgeon, in order to see the advertised “superstar doctor”.

“Then you get there and suddenly you can’t see him,” Mesa said. “This is devastating to the patient. Not only did they not see the big-name guy, but they also delayed their care.”

Daniel Chang covers health care for the Miami Herald, where he works to untangle the often irrational world of health insurance, hospitals and health policy for readers.