Kentucky Pediatric Heart Surgery Program to Resume Despite Lack of Answers in Infant Deaths

Kentucky Children’s Hospital has announced the reopening of its pediatric heart surgery program, after an internal investigation following the deaths of five infants following heart surgeries. The hospital stopped the program and placed its pediatric surgeon on leave in 2012.

Parents of the babies who died are concerned about the resumption of heart surgeries. CNN Health reports that there does not seem to be a requirement that any medical governing body approve the decision to reopen the heart surgery unit. Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky’s health care system, said the decision rests with him. “The only person I need permission from is me.”

At the time Karpf put the pediatric heart surgery program on hold, he said the mortality rates “were OK, and OK isn’t good enough for me.” “It’s got to be better. It’s got to be good.” Karpf commissioned an internal report on the heart surgery program, CNN Health writes. Parents whose babies had died hoped the report might provide information about what went wrong. According to CNN Health, the report does not offer any explanation and, in fact, does not acknowledge the deaths at all. Kevin Allen, whose daughter Kalyn died in January 2012 asks, “How do you know when the problems have been fixed when they’re not identified?” Allen also questions whether an internal review is really objective.

The Kentucky attorney general took legal action to get the hospital to release mortality data for pediatric heart surgeries, and Kentucky Children’s eventually reported that patients at the hospital were dying after all heart surgeries at a rate more than double the national average: 7.1 percent at Kentucky Children’s compared with 3.2 percent nationally. Karpf won’t provide numbers for the hospital’s performance on specific heart procedures, though some hospitals put such information on their websites, according to CNN Health.

CNN Health reports that the hospital is hiring a new pediatric heart surgeon, plans a dedicated intensive care unit for heart surgery patients, and is considering a partnership with another hospital for pediatric heart surgeries. The hospital says it will no longer perform the most difficult types of heart surgeries.

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