Florida Hospital Criticized for High Pediatric Death Rate

Pediatric heart surgery is a delicate, complex area of medicine that requires a sophisticated and specialized team. Heart surgery in children is done to repair defects and diseases of the heart and its surrounding tissue, but it is extremely difficult and risky. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight what constitutes negligence during these types of surgeries and a certain Florida hospital under fire for its program.

The pediatric heart surgery program at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida was established in 2011. By 2013, the mortality rate for babies having heart surgery through its program was three times the national average; something the hospital does not tell families considering surgery there.

The national rate of mortality in pediatric heart surgery is 3.3% – at St. Mary's, the rate is 12.5%. This information is not made available online, however. St. Mary's does not provide this type of data, 12.5% death rate was calculated by a team at CNN, who gathered the information through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry.

The reason for the high mortality rates is multi-faceted, including how recently the program was established and because so few pediatric heart surgeries are done there, giving doctors little practice. The vast majority of pediatric heart surgery centers in the U.S. perform more than 100 procedures per year. In 2013, St. Mary's conducted just 23 procedures; in 2014, that number dropped to 18.

Like any other skill, surgeons must perform constantly to develop the proper technique. Surgery in newborns is an extraordinarily difficult procedure, and the team at St. Mary's was doing far too few to gain or maintain proficiency and skill.

In 2014, a team of five independent pediatric heart doctors went to St. Mary's to review its program. Problems were evident from the moment they entered the program, and ranged from a total lack of laboratory space to inadequate reports, tests and services. On the day the doctors arrived, there were zero pediatric heart patients, which was a first for many reviewers.

The reviewers recommended that St. Mary's not perform heart surgery on babies under six months old, and not perform any complex procedures on older children. Mere days later, doctors performed open heart surgery on a two-week old newborn, who died from complications. A few weeks later, doctors performed a complex surgery on a 3-week-old, who was sent to the intensive care unit for more than two months afterward.

The parents of the children who died are now voicing their concern that St. Mary's continues to perform pediatric heart surgery. Several have filed lawsuits against St. Mary's, alleging negligence and malpractice. Some parents speculate that the hospital continues to perform these surgeries for the high reimbursements; pediatric heart surgery can be quite lucrative, a single surgery can bring a hospital more than $500,000.

Surgical malpractice occurs in various forms from all members of the team, including the anesthesiologist, surgical nurse, surgeon, or other medical staff. Some common surgical mistakes that may constitute malpractice include: instruments left in a patient's body, unnecessary surgery, wrong site surgery, or infections. A successful malpractice claim proves that a member of the medical team deviated from the standard of care, directly causing a patient's injury or death.

An estimated 22,000 babies need heart surgery each year. Parents face an overwhelming decision when choosing the hospital and doctor to perform such a delicate procedure, and the total lack of transparency among hospitals is alarming.

Victims of surgical malpractice have many legal options. Our team of medical negligence lawyers has 30 years of experience fighting on behalf of patients and their families, winning millions for our clients. We offer free legal consultations to concerned parties nationwide.

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