Florida hospital ends pediatric surgery program after deaths

After an investigation by CNN into the unusually high death rate of its pediatric patients who underwent cardiac surgeries, St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, announced earlier this week that its pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program would be permanently shuttered.

The CNN investigation discovered that in the two-year period between 2011 to 2013, the hospital’s program had a mortality rate of over 12 percent for pediatric patients who underwent open heart surgery. The facility’s rater is over three times as high as the national average.

The program was initiated in 2011. Since then, no fewer than nine infants died following cardiac surgeries at the facility. A 10th infant survived, but suffered paralysis. In June of last year the head of a panel of experts from the state issued the recommendation that the hospital cease performing cardiac surgeries on babies younger than six months, and refrain from performing all complex cardiac surgical procedures on children of all ages.

Yet the procedures and infant deaths continued. In a statement they released to media outlets this week, the hospital appeared to defend its record, stating they were “proud of the work that has been done and the lives . . . saved. This is the decision of the hospital and not based on a decision or recommendation by the state of Florida or any regulatory agency.”

In their statement, St. Mary’s continued to bash the media firestorm which set off the chain of events leading to the program’s closure: “[I]naccurate media reports . . . have made it significantly more challenging to build sustainable volume in our program.”

In a prior statement issued after CNN published the findings of their investigation, St. Mary’s called CNN’s infant death mortality rate calculations as “completely erroneous,” “exaggerated” and “wrong.” They continued to claim that the mortality rate for the program, when adjusted for risk, was within the national average range of other facilities that performed pediatric cardiac surgeries.

Those words may be too little, too late, for the parents of the infants who died following surgery. Parents whose children succumbed due to surgical errors or other negligent acts may find justice and closure through the civil court system.

Source: CNN, “CNN report on Florida hospital leads to heart surgery program closure,” Elizabeth Cohen, Aug. 17, 2015