Readers of the Lopez McHugh blog will recall our coverage of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida. The hospital, owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., was the subject of an investigation and statistical analysis by a Johns Hopkins cardiac surgery professor.
That analysis showed that the hospital had a pediatric cardiothoracic surgery mortality rate that was three times the national average. Once CNN reported on the analysis and the numbers it revealed, the unit was eventually shut down. A political scandal would later emerge that would pit Florida surgeons against the governor’s office and state GOP.
The Philadelphia area may have a “St. Mary’s” of its own. According to numbers presented in an analysis conducted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children lost nearly one out of every four infants under a month old that required a high-risk heart operation.
This represents a mortality rate nearly three times that of the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; the only other hospital in the region that performs cardiac surgeries on newborns.
St. Christopher’s, also owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., largely brought this attention onto themselves. After refusing to take part in a state-run evaluation of children’s surgical units, local media began making inquiries of their own. St. Christopher’s continued to refuse to publicly release anything pertaining to their exact numbers; causing media outlets to begin conducting their own investigations. The hospital would officially shut down its nonemergency surgery unit but, again, refused to state why.
The Inquirer conducted its own analysis of St. Christopher’s numbers which revealed statistics that are beyond shocking: 24% mortality on 121 newborn heart surgeries conducted between 2009 and 2014. 29 infants lost on the operating table.
Forced to finally make a statement in the face of such damning evidence, the hospital would only say the following:
“While we are making progress growing our volumes and improving our performance, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of our cardiovascular surgery program.”
These are 23 words that fall far too short in explaining a 24% mortality rate; a fact that is not lost on those in the medical community.
“What’s striking to me, based on the numbers, and the fact they’re not telling you the reasons,” says Paul F. Levy, a consultant and former hospital executive in Boston, “is the lack of transparency in and of itself would be concerning. If I were a parent, I’d want to know why.”
The parents of the 29 newborns who died after having heart surgery at St. Christopher’s between 2009 and 2014 most certainly want to know why.
They want to know why they weren’t allowed to know the success rates, or lack thereof, of those surgeries that came before their own sons and daughters. They want to know why the hospital was allowed to keep its numbers private in the first place. And they want to know why nothing was done to shed light on information that, had it been known, might have meant that their children could still be with them.