UK hospital, troubled by deaths in pediatric heart program, says it will partner with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

The University of Kentucky hospital, which suspended its pediatric heart program three years ago after five of its patients died, has signed a letter of intent to form a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for heart surgery on children.

“The collaboration will enable more Kentucky children to receive care closer to home, a UK press release said. It called Cincinnati Children’s “one of the top three children’s hospitals in the country and a top 10 pediatric heart care program.” The release said most parents of children at UK who need heart surgery are going to Cincinnati Children’s.

Details are still being finalized, but the plan calls for a heart surgeon to be jointly
recruited and have a primary appointment at Cincinnati Children’s but be based at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, a UK unit. “A director of the pediatric heart program will be recruited
immediately to oversee the program and drive its development,” the release said. “The
program director position also will be based in Lexington and serve as
program liaison for both sites. The director will be employed by UK
HealthCare
.”

Pediatric heart surgery would resume at UK by late 2016 or early 2017. “Initially, more complex cases will be sent to Cincinnati Children’s,” the release said. “Over time, as the Lexington site program matures, more complex cases may
be performed at UK.”

Dr. Michael Karpf, UK HealthCare chief
(Herald-Leader photo by Pablo Alcala)

Dr. Michael Karpf, UK’s executive vice president for health, said in the release, “When we voluntarily suspended Kentucky Children’s pediatric
cardiothoracic program in October 2012, we said we would only
re-open the program when we were ready to provide the best care for our
patients and their families.  We are confident that this collaborative
arrangement meets that mark with the highest quality surgical and
clinical care, education and research in pediatric cardiovascular
services for patients of Kentucky and their families.”

“The move drew immediate praise,” Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Somerset physician Kevin Kavanagh, founder and chair of Health Watch USA, a medical watchdog group, told Blackford UK couldn’t have chosen a better partner: “I think this can be viewed as trying to shore up a deficit,
and expand and better serve patients.”

Tabitha Rainey, whose child had heart surgery at UK but went elsewhere after complications, said the move should have been made long ago: “They could have saved a
lot of lives.”

“Rainey and other parents were infuriated by UK’s initial refusal to
discuss why the program was suspended or to release mortality data for
the heart program,” Blackford notes. “UK said releasing the information could hurt patient
confidentiality, but Attorney General Jack Conway said UK had violated
the Open Records Act, a decision UK appealed in circuit court.” After CNN did a report on the program, UK released the mortality rate: It  increased from 5.2 percent in 2010 to 7.1 percent in 2012. “National mortality rates average 4 percent to 5.3 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health.”

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