VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s children’s hospital is releasing its annual report after denouncing as a “hoax” an Associated Press investigation that found its mission shifted under its past administration to focus more on profits than on its small patients.
The president of the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital and senior medical officials were scheduled to present the report Tuesday in the presence of the Vatican secretary of state and Italy’s health minister.
The previous day, the AP revealed that staff complained to the Vatican in early 2014 that corners were being cut, safety protocols ignored and children put at risk in a push for profits. Those complaints, the AP reported, sparked two secret Vatican-commissioned investigations into the hospital.
The first probe, headed by an Italian cardiologist, gathered testimony and information from dozens of current and former staff during three months of confidential interviews outside the hospital. It found that Bambino Gesu’s mission had been “lost” and was “today more aimed at profit than on caring for children.” The report cited breaches of accepted medical protocol, including overcrowding that caused increased infection risk, reuse of disposable equipment, early awakening from surgery, unsupervised experimental procedures and facilities that didn’t meet medical standards.
The second investigation was conducted by a three-member American team that spent three days at the hospital in January 2015, visiting wards, speaking with on-duty staff and reviewing meeting minutes and OR schedules. Its report said it had “disproved” the findings of the first and declared the hospital in many ways “best in class” in the quality of care it provides, the devotion of staff to children and their families and their sense of pride at working there.
AP corroborated many of the first report’s findings through interviews with more than a dozen current and former Bambino Gesu employees, as well as patients, their families and health officials. The AP reviewed medical records, civil court rulings, hospital and Vatican emails, and five years of union complaints.
The hospital called the AP’s report a “hoax” that “contained false, dated and gravely defamatory accusations and conjectures that had been denied” by the second investigation. It threatened legal action.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke acknowledged that the Vatican had investigated staff complaints and said it welcomed efforts to improve care, “including reports of practices that might be below standard.”
“No hospital is perfect, but it is false and unjust to suggest that there are serious threats to the health of children at Bambino Gesu,” he said.
Both the Vatican and Bambino Gesu pointed to the second report as evidence that all of the allegations — except one involving space constraints — were “unfounded.” The head of the first investigation, however, fully stood by the findings he delivered to Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in April 2014. At the time, he told the hospital employees who worked with him on the investigation that it would be used as a guide for reform by the hospital’s board.
His report found that the hospital’s standards were comparable to other leading hospitals, but recommended a revamped ethics committee, a hospice program, a reorganized governance structure and a new medical director and nursing supervisor to better enforce medical protocols.
“What we wrote in that report was the exact truth,” Dr. Steven Masotti said in a June 2 telephone interview.
“Now things are completely different,” he said. “You have kind of a revolution in the hospital. Literally no one is in there anymore of the old guard. … And they’re trying to fix those problems, based on a number of reports, including our report.”
The leader of the second investigation, Sister Carol Keehan, said in an email that she was disappointed by the AP story, saying it distorted, “misrepresented and trivialized the significant review the clinical team and I did.”
She said some of AP’s statements were factually incorrect, though she didn’t say which ones.
“My worry is not for me or the pope. It is for the parents who will be frightened by your distorted picture of the Bambino and parents have enough to worry about when their children are sick,” she said. “I also worry for the staff who will feel so disparaged by your portrayal of the work they try so hard to do each day.”
A third report, a 2014 external audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, also found that the original mission of the hospital to care for poor children “had been modified in the last few years” to focus on expansion and commercial activities, without sufficient governance controls.
The hospital president, Giuseppe Profiti, resigned in January 2015, nine months into a new three-year term, just before Keehan’s team began its clinical evaluation. The treasurer and human resources director also left.
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