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Pediatric cardiac patients' deaths under investigation

The high rate of infant mortality for babies operated on for open-heart surgery at West Palm Beach's St. Mary's Medical Center is under active investigation. Recently the government launched its probe into the nine cases of babies who died since 2011 after undergoing the procedures.

Concerns are focused on the high death rates from the complicated surgeries that have only been performed on a small sector of the infant population, those with congenital heart defects, which makes them high-risk patients.Annually, approximately 40,000 babies enter the world with some type of cardiac defect. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart abnormalities are the primary cause of illnesses and deaths due to birth defects. Nearly a quarter of babies born with the defect are considered in critical condition, needing life-saving surgery during their first year.

CNN turned their spotlight on the unusually high rate of infant deaths at the center. In 2011, the hospital initiated its program for pediatric cardiac surgeries. CNN reports that the center's infant mortality rate of 12.5% was thrice that of the national average.

Lawsuits were filed this year on behalf of two of the deceased infants' families, with two additional cases pending. The pediatric surgeon in charge of the program faces depositions in two of the cases next month.

However, it remains unclear whether the figures account for risk-adjusted mortality, which factors in the severity of the cases as well as additional inherent risks. Without considering risk adjustment, the director of health care research and policy development for Massachusetts General Hospital Harvard Medical School's surgery department said it is "really risky." Omitting those considerations can paint a misleading and to incomplete pictures of facility's performance.

The hospital spokesperson had no comment when asked specific questions about how many open-heart procedures were performed or the total number of risk-adjusted deaths that were reported since the inception of the pediatric cardiac surgery program. In an email, she characterized recent reports in the media as "misleading" because they relied on "a selective presentation of cases."

Those words offer little comfort to the parents of the dead infants. Those facing similar tragic circumstances may also wish to pursue legal options against health care providers and the facilities that employ them.

Source: Modern Healthcare, "CMS to investigate pediatric heart surgery deaths at Florida hospital," Sabriya Rice, June 05, 2015

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