Issues with Newborn Heart Surgeries at Philadelphia Hospitals
March 28th, 2017 by Wapner Newman
“Infant heart surgery mortality rates.” Pretty serious subject matter, especially if one of those newborns is yours. It is difficult to even imagine how the families of infants with serious cardiac issues handle the strain and uncertainty. Successfully navigating that journey means finding a facility that offers quality care at a reasonable price. To help families of children facing cardiac surgery make informed decisions, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), an independent state agency, was charged with conducting an evaluation of the five Pennsylvania hospitals that perform pediatric cardiac procedures.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and Geisinger Children’s Hospital in Danville voluntarily joined together with Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, to participate in PHC4’s public report. However, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia declined. Owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp. of Dallas, the 189-bed hospital does 50 or so open-heart neonatal surgeries a year that require the heart-bypass machine. By contrast, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has performed such surgeries on nearly 10 times as many children annually. This is especially troubling, given studies that have found the more types of surgeries a hospital performs, the better the outcomes will be on average.
In February, St. Christopher’s stopped conducting elective heart surgeries pending an internal review. This action, coupled with the refusal to participate in PHC4’s study, led to an investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The analysis revealed that one in four babies less than a month old died after arduous, highly risky heart operations performed between 2009 and 2014. This 24 percent mortality rate arose from the deaths of 29 newborn patients out of 121 who underwent heart surgery at St. Christopher’s during those five years. In contrast, only 67 of 784 newborns (8.5 percent) who underwent heart surgery at CHOP during the same time period died.
A high mortality rate can have many causes, including problems during surgery or issues with follow-up care. Of course, cardiac surgeries are very complicated, and survival is by no means a given, especially for the sickest babies. Furthermore, St. Christopher’s isn’t the only hospital that doesn’t seem to believe in transparency. Of the 125 U.S. hospitals performing pediatric heart surgeries, only 33 share their infant mortality rates — despite the fact that this sort of information that has been publicly available for years on adult heart surgery.
Still, a combination of high mortality and a lack of details is troubling. So, too, is the finding that newborn babies who undergo heart surgery typically spend twice as long recovering at St. Christopher’s as similar patients at CHOP. Such extended hospitalizations can have a significant financial and emotional impact on families and is often accompanied by a greater chance of infections and other patient complications down the road.
Patients and their families have a right to information about the likely outcomes of the treatment they are going to receive. Awareness is important. If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the medical malpractice attorneys at Wapner Newman.