According to a recent New York Times report, University of North Carolina officials ignored serious warnings from their own pediatric cardiology medical professionals concerning serious issues within the pediatric heart surgery program at UNC Children’s Hospital.
Disregarding the concerns about a lack of support and resources within the program, UNC refused to publicize key measures of performance within the pediatric cardiology program. In fact, the data would show that the pediatric heart surgery program at UNC suffered from a higher death rate than almost all of the other 82 institutions that publicly report various indications of patient care.
Internal disputes among doctors contained on tape recordings, possessed by the New York Times, indicate deliberations about staff departures, decreasing resources, and other issues. The discussions contemplated carefully examining what was going wrong and making the decision to send pediatric patients to other medical institutions in order to facilitate their proper care.
However, a number of UNC officials were fearful that such a move would irreparably damage their children’s heart surgery program along with the institutions prestige and finances, making Duke University’s competing program the obvious beneficiary.
Ongoing and increasing problems with UNC’s children’s heart program
At the same time, UNC’s medical staff continued identifying the increasing problems with the medical center’s pediatric heart program.
UNC lost two pediatric cardiac intensivists in 2015 – medical professionals who specialize in caring for critically ill heart patients. In addition, the Children’s Hospital had shut down its CIC unit, which is a specialized area that cares for cardiac patients making the transition out of intensive care. Nurses with experience caring for those patients also left the program. In addition UNC did not operate a dedicated cardiac intensive care unit, as do many other larger hospitals.
As the internal debates raged and administrators made promises to take action, young patients in need of heart operations with typical expected positive outcomes, went through cardiac surgeries at the University. Sadly, several of these patients died.
The confusion at the UNC pediatric cardiology program undergirds broader concerns about the consistency and quality of care offered by numerous pediatric heart surgery programs across the nation. Every year in the United States, approximately 40,000 babies are born with some type of heart defect. Approximate 25% of these need surgeries or other procedures to correct these problems before reaching the age of one.
The data indicates that patients with complicated heart problems are more likely to experience best outcomes in hospitals that perform at least several hundred pediatric heart surgeries per year. However, the large number of surgery programs across the nation has made it difficult for certain institutions, such as UNC, to reach these numbers. PNC hospital performs around 100 to 150 of these surgeries each year. When the numbers of surgeries per year are low, surgeons and staff may simply have an adequate experience and resources to achieve the best results.
UNC defends is pediatric heart program
Officials at UNC defend their pediatric heart program, explaining some of the major changes it has undergone recently. For instance, the particular surgeon who led the program and who receives considerable mention in the New York Times story, is no longer the chief of pediatric heart surgery at UNC. The University has hired a new surgeon along with new associates.
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