Florida Hospital Blames “Inaccurate Media” for Closure of Pediatric Heart Surgery Program

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Closure of Pediatric Heart Surgery ProgramSt. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida has announced that it will be permanently closing its pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program. This move will potentially put an end to the struggles the hospital has been dealing with regarding its allegedly high mortality rate during the operations.

A 2013 investigative report by CNN first put St. Mary’s in the public spotlight. In the report, CNN depicted a troubling combination of unusually high complications and a 12.5% mortality rate (by their calculations) on cardiac operations performed on infants. St. Mary’s responded to the original report by saying that CNN had miscalculated and that its properly adjusted rate (for patient condition/case complexity) was closer to 4.7% and in line with national averages. Both parties have maintained their own calculations are accurate.

What is known for certain is the following: Between 2011 and 2014, nine infants died as a result of complications resulting from open-heart surgery at St. Mary’s and a tenth were paralyzed. In June of 2014, the chairman of a state panel recommended that St. Mary’s stop performing cardiac operations on children under six months and refrain from complex heart surgery on all children, the latest in a string of other cardiac surgeons expressing concern. This recommendation was not followed.

One of the possible causes of the death rate was believed to be St. Mary’s low volume of pediatric cardiac operations, which prevented surgical staff from gaining appropriate experience and practice. Many hospitals with similar programs see around 100 cases every year. St. Mary’s saw 48 between 2011 and 2013.

For its part, St. Mary’s has maintained innocence of any wrongdoing and stood by its assertions that the CNN statistics are erroneous and exaggerated. It explains the program’s closure by saying that “the inaccurate media reports on our program have made it significantly more challenging to build sustainable volume,” and that “we feel it is best to focus on other services needed by our community.” Their statement maintains that the program’s closure is not based on any state recommendation or regulatory order.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Cohen, E., et al., “Secret deaths: CNN finds high surgical death rate for children at a Florida hospital,” CNN web site, last updated June 15, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/01/health/st-marys-medical-center/index.html, last accessed August 18, 2015.
Cohen, E., “CNN report on Florida hospital leads to heart surgery program closure,” CNN web site, August 17, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/17/health/st-marys-medical-center-investigation/index.html.