After babies’ deaths, more scrutiny for Kentucky surgeon

Story highlights

  • The hospital releases overall mortality rates; CNN asks for more details
  • Dr. Mark Plunkett was the chief heart surgeon at Kentucky Children’s Hospital
  • He resigned to take a position with University of Florida Health
  • UF says it’s reviewing his application after a CNN investigation was published

The University of Florida’s health system is reviewing the application of a heart surgeon from Kentucky who came under scrutiny after a CNN investigation into the deaths of babies in his care.

Dr. Mark Plunkett was the chief heart surgeon at Kentucky Children’s Hospital before he resigned to take a position with University of Florida Health.

When CNN contacted an official from the University of Florida last month, he said he was excited to have Plunkett come work there.

“We think he’ll do excellent in our environment,” said Dr. Timothy Flynn, senior associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Florida College of Medicine. “We had extensive discussions with his colleagues in Kentucky, all of whom thought he performed very, very well.”

But after CNN published its story, UF Health spokeswoman Melanie Ross said his application is still being considered.
“Our review of Dr. Plunkett’s application is ongoing as we continue to follow our standard processes,” Flynn told the Gainesville Sun newspaper. “His hiring is contingent in part on his obtaining a Florida medical license and completing our credentialing process, which has not yet occurred.”

Kentucky Children’s Hospital stopped doing heart surgeries last October.

Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky’s health care system, which includes Children’s Hospital, said he put the program on hold because the mortality rates weren’t what he wanted to them to be.

After fighting requests to release its pediatric heart surgery outcomes, citing patient privacy, the hospital on Friday provided some figures. They show the overall mortality rate between 2008 and 2012 ranged from 4.5% to 7.1%, which the hospital said is comparable to those of programs of similar size.

CNN has asked Kentucky Children’s Hospital for more details.

CNN contacted four families whose babies had surgeries with Plunkett during an eight-week period last year. Two died, and the two children who survived had additional surgeries elsewhere.

The parents voiced their frustration that the University of Kentucky is not releasing more information about why the surgeries stopped or why Plunkett left.

The University of Kentucky is conducting an internal review of the events at Children’s Hospital last year. The hospital plans to hire a new surgeon and reopen the program at some point.

Karpf told CNN that when the program opens again, it will be first class: “I won’t be satisfied until our program is as good as anybody’s program,” he said.

CNN attempted to contact Plunkett by e-mail Friday but has not received a response.

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