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After report on child deaths, UNC hospital will suspend some heart surgeries

Lynn Bonner, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in News & Features

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Children's Hospital will stop performing complicated heart surgeries while an outside group examines its practices, hospital officials announced Monday.

The decision to temporarily suspend some child heart surgeries at the UNC-run hospital comes after a report by The New York Times about high death rates. The newspaper reported on mortality rates higher than the national average and on complications in children whose surgeries were considered low-risk.

UNC Health Care said in a news release that it is taking several steps, including the examination by outside experts, "to restore confidence in its pediatric heart surgery program."

"I want to acknowledge in the sincerest way possible, that for our team and for me personally, the death of any child is one too many," Dr. Wesley Burks, chief executive of UNC Health Care, said in a prepared statement. "These steps are part of a comprehensive effort to ensure UNC Health Care's mission to serve all North Carolinians with the highest quality there is."

The New York Times obtained secretly recorded audio of cardiologists alarmed by young patient deaths. In one recording, a cardiologist questioned whether he would send his children to be treated at the hospital.

The state Department of Health and Human Services launched an investigation of the hospital's child heart surgery program after the Times published the results of its investigation, the News & Observer has reported.


The Children's Hospital will not perform some complex surgeries while it waits for the final DHHS report and the external advisory board's evaluation and recommendations, UNC Health Care said. The advisory board will report to the UNC Health Care Board of Directors.

A state DHHS spokeswoman did not respond to an email or phone message left Monday about the status of its investigation.

In an email to UNC Health Care employees Monday, its leaders wrote, "Over the past couple of weeks our pediatric congenital heart surgery program has been in the news with reports of poor outcomes and a lack of transparency into mortality data. We and the UNC Health Care Board of Directors believe it is important to acknowledge the time period when our survival rate was below the national average and share data previously used for our internal peer review."

In a May 31 interview, hospital administrators said they stood behind the care children had received. They were eager to consign any problems to the past, blamed poor team dynamics and highlighted leadership changes in the past two years.


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