Kentucky Children’s Hospital at the University of Kentucky is reviewing its cardio-thoracic surgery program and referring surgical patients to other hospitals, “but the reasons why are unclear,” Brenna Angel reported Dec. 21 for WUKY-FM, the university-owned station.
Angel did identify “the surgeon at the center of the review,” Dr. Mark Plunkett, who is on a leave of absence but “remains on staff at UK with a $700,000 annual salary,” as chief of cardio-thoracic surgery. “UK denied an open-records request for the date of his most recent surgery and his patient mortality rate,” citing privacy rules in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It was unclear how release of such statistics, without any personally identifying information, would compromise privacy. Plunkett and officials of the medical center refused to be interviewed.
“It’s been pretty hush-hush,” Tabitha Rainey of Lexington, the mother of a Plunkett patient, told Angel, who reported: “Plunkett and his assistant Dr. Deborah Kozik operated on Waylon seven days after he was born. Tabitha was later told that Dr. Plunkett was taking a leave of absence.” Rainey told Angel, “Months went past and they lost another patient, who was a dear friend of mine, and it was pretty heavy in the unit at the time. Then soon after I guess they decided to stop doing the surgeries and review the entire program.”
Angle was able to get some records from UK and reported they showed that “The number of children Dr. Plunkett operated on this year is down around 43 percent from two years ago.” UK Trustee Dr. Charles Sachatello, a surgeon who sits on the Board of Trustees’ health-care committee, told Angel, “I was not aware of that, and that was never announced at the Board of Trustees meeting.” Sachatello told Angel that UK should merge its pediatric heart program with the one at the University of Louisville because of the high operational costs of such programs.
Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.