Mortality Rate of Pediatric Open Heart Surgeries at St. Mary’s Above State Average By Tod Aronovitz | 06/09/15 | 0 Comment

St. Mary’s Medical Center is disputing a CNN story that reported the hospital’s infant mortality rate in its pediatric open heart surgery unit is well above the national average. St. Mary’s, a Tenet-owned hospital based in West Palm Beach, claims the news network greatly exaggerated its calculations compared to figures by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which also found pediatric heart mortalities at St. Mary’s to be higher than average on a statewide basis, but only slightly.

A recent story in the Palm Beach Post said CNN findings from a year-long investigation concluded that:

1.) St. Mary’s infant heart mortality rate was three times the national average
2.) There have been eight infant deaths since the program started in late 2011
3.) From 2011-2013, St. Mary’s performed 48 open heart surgeries, but six babies did not survive—a 12.5 percent death rate
4.) The Society for Thoracic Surgeons reports that the national average is 3.3

The AHCA calculated figures from a longer time frame and found St. Mary’s program had a 4.58 percent mortality rate compared to the state average of 3.97 percent. The story said the AHCA requested calculations from CNN to see if appropriate risk adjustment was factored, but had not received numbers as of yet. Risk analysis is important in factoring mortality rates because—especially in pediatric cardiovascular units—surgeries are complex and often have different fatality rates based on the specific operation.

Documents obtained by CNN show that St. Mary’s expects to reach 100 patients this year in its pediatric cardiovascular unit. Before St. Mary’s started this program in 2011, parents in Palm Beach County whose babies had serious heart defects were sent to Miami, Hollywood, Tampa or Orlando. Doctors affiliated at other hospitals expressed concern about the high volume of patients in the program, according to the CNN story.

The CNN report also singled out Dr. Michael Black, who had been chief of cardiac surgery at Stanford University before coming to St. Mary’s in 2011 as its new star surgeon. Known for his innovative surgical methods, Dr. Black claimed that he had only lost one patient at St. Mary’s before another mother’s 2-month-old died after one of his surgeries. According to CNN, six babies died while in surgery with Dr. Black during that timeframe.

In response to the CNN report, St. Mary’s issued this statement:
St. Mary’s Medical Center has been working since 2011 to build a high-quality pediatric cardiac surgery program to serve residents of the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast communities, and we are the only hospital providing this lifesaving care between Orlando and Hollywood.

The CNN story relies upon a selective presentation of cases and data to create a misleading perception of the program and Dr. Michael Black, a well-respected surgeon. Every patient death is heartbreaking for the family and our entire team; however, like all programs, the patients we serve are afflicted with severe life-threatening conditions, and it is impossible to eliminate the risk of mortality.

Since we received the report from the voluntary state-sponsored review in April 2014, our mortality rate has been consistent with (the) national average. Our first priority has always been the safety and well-being of our patients, and we are committed to continuing to provide high-quality medical care to the community we serve.

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