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Vatican hospital says damning AP investigation is a ‘hoax’

A baby rests in a bed at the Bambino Gesù hospital (Getty Images)

The Vatican’s children’s hospital is calling an Associated Press investigation into quality of care problems a “hoax.”

In a statement Monday, the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital again threatened legal action against AP for what it said was a report containing “false, dated and gravely defamatory” accusations that it said had been disproven by a Vatican probe.

AP uncovered two previously unknown Vatican investigations into the hospital: One three-month probe in 2014 interviewed dozens of current and former employees, gathered hospital documentation and concluded that the hospital’s mission had been lost under its past administration and was “today more aimed at profit than on caring for children.”

The hospital cited a second Vatican-commissioned report by a team of Americans who spent three days at the hospital in 2015, “disproved” the first report and declared Bambino Gesù in many ways “best in class.”

Among AP’s findings:

— Overcrowding and poor hygiene contributed to deadly infection, including one 21-month superbug outbreak in the cancer ward that killed eight children.

— To save money, disposable equipment and other materials were at times used improperly, with a one-time order of cheap needles breaking when injected into tiny veins.

— Doctors were so pressured to maximize operating-room turnover that patients were sometimes brought out of anesthesia too quickly.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke acknowledged the Vatican had investigated staff complaints and said it welcomes 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 Gesù,” he said.

Both the Vatican and Bambino Gesù pointed to the Vatican’s second investigation, led by American Catholic health care expert Sister Carol Keehan, as evidence that all of the allegations — except one involving space constraints — were false.

“While there are many things we could have missed or been misled about, we came away from this evaluation with a real sense that on the major charges and the major issues alleged, we have been able to disprove them,” Keehan’s report said.

Founded in 1869 to treat poor children, Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) is now the main pediatric hospital serving southern Italy. In 2015, the 607-bed facility performed over 26,000 surgical procedures — more than a third of all children’s operations nationwide. It draws top-notch surgeons to work there and celebrity visits, including U.S. First Lady Melania Trump in May.

Perched on a hillside just up the road from Vatican City, the hospital’s main campus enjoys extraterritorial status, making the Italian tax-payer funded institution immune to the surprise inspections that other Italian hospitals undergo.