Report: Death rates tripled in 2-year span at Florida pediatric heart program

The Tampa Bay Times published a lengthy investigative piece Nov. 28 about recent problems at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the heart surgery unit saw a tripling in its mortality rate from 2015 to 2017.

Eleven patients died in a year-and-a-half span after operations by the hospital’s two principal heart surgeons, and the mortality rate of nearly 10 percent in 2017 was the highest any Florida program had seen in the last decade.

Other outcomes suffered, too, as lengths of stays were twice as long as the state average, surgical wounds were five times as likely to rupture and patients were four times as likely to require extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, the Times reported.

According to the newspaper, hospital administrators ignored warnings from other staff members as early as 2015 about procedures that had gone awry under the supervision of the recently hired surgeons, allowing the physicians to continue to operate. One child’s parents didn’t learn their daughter contracted pneumonia in the hospital until they read it on an autopsy report, and another family wasn’t told a surgical needle was left inside their newborn’s aorta before she was sent home. It was later removed at another hospital.

All Children’s eventually acknowledged the program’s shortcomings, first sending more complex cases to other hospitals and then stopping open-heart surgeries altogether. All Children’s interviews with The Times for the story, but provided a statement, saying part of its commitment to the “highest quality care possible” is “a willingness to learn.”

“When we became aware of challenges with our heart institute we took action to address them,” the statement read. “We initially reduced the complexity of cases we would cover and brought in a senior visiting surgeon from the flagship Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. We subsequently halted surgeries after that surgeon accepted a position outside of Hopkins.

“We are currently reviewing the program and recruiting senior surgical talent with the assistance of our colleagues from Johns Hopkins Medicine and will resume surgeries when all involved are confident that the care being delivered meets the high standards set by this organization.”

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