U. of Kentucky settles case over pediatric cardiothoracic info

The University of Kentucky settled open records litigation that involved its suspended pediatric cardiothoracic program.

Brenna Angel, a radio reporter with university-owned WUKY, had requested to inspect records in late 2012 on Mark Plunkett, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery and the director of the pediatric and congenital heart program at Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington. The program was suspended in last fall and is under an internal review.

The university resisted, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Angel appealed, stating that she asked for “dates and overall statistics, not individual patient information.”

In March, Kentucky’s attorney general, Jack Conway, determined that the university had violated the Open Records Act “by withholding records showing date of a physician’s last surgery, mortality statistics and an unspecified program review document under HIPAA.”

The university released mortality statistics for the pediatric cardiothoracic program on Aug. 9. It reported an overall mortality rate of 5.8 percent for 2008 through 2012.

“During this period, the mortality rates ranged from 4.5 percent to 7.1 percent,” Michael Karpf, MD, the university’s executive vice president for health affairs, said in a letter. “These ranges are comparable to national mortality rates averaging 5.3 percent for programs of similar size to ours.”

On Aug. 16, Fayette Circuit Court Judge James D. Ishmael, Jr., ruled that the case was resolved and dismissed it. William E. Thro, general counsel for the University of Kentucky, added that the university still could face litigation from other media.