LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- KentuckyOne Health will stop performing heart transplants at Jewish Hospital next month because of dwindling patient volume and difficulty retaining cardiologists.

KentuckyOne decided to place the heart transplant program at Jewish on "long-term inactivation" effective Aug. 17, spokesman David McArthur said in a prepared statement.

"We have held discussions over the past several months with leadership at the University of Louisville, our transplant program partner, about the ongoing low volume in heart transplants and a significant loss of heart transplant program cardiologists," McArthur said. "In 2019 so far, the program has transplanted only one heart."

U of L doctors perform the transplants as part of one of five adult, solid-organ transplant programs led by the university but housed at Jewish.

Federal rules require that heart transplant programs in the U.S. perform a minimum of 10 procedures over a rolling 12-month period to maintain program compliance, according to the statement.

The loss of the transplant program stokes fresh fears about the future of the hospital, which is losing money and has been unable to fetch a buyer for more than two years.

But officials with KentukcyOne and U of L played down on Thursday the significance of the program's loss. 

"This program inactivation ONLY affects the heart transplant program at Jewish Hospital," Jewish Hospital President Dr. Ronald Waldridge said in an all-employee email on Thursday. "It does not affect other solid organ transplant programs provided at Jewish Hospital, nor does it affect any other cardiovascular services provided at the hospital."

U of L President Neeli Bendapudi said she was "disappointed" that KentuckyOne Health suspended the program, but that there is no indication it has broader implications for the survival of the hospital.

U of L doctors continue to perform surgeries and other cardiac services at Jewish, she noted, and the transplant programs for livers, lungs, pancreases and kidneys are unaffected.

Waldridge did not specifically address the hospital's future in his message to employees.

Waldridge said part of the problem with the heart transplant program is a shortage of available donor hearts because of changes in how the organs are allocated nationally that went into effect in October.

He said the suspension of the program can last up to 12 months. It would take approval by the federal government and an organ transplant accreditation organization to restart the program, he said.

Dr. Toni Ganzel, dean of U of L's School of Medicine, acknowledged that there has been a "net loss" of U of L-employed cardiologists during the last two years, saying "five or six" have left and "two or three" have been hired.

"Uncertainty makes physicians nervous and some have sought other opportunities," she said.

This developing story will be updated.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.