The Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is looking into deaths of babies following open heart surgeries at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The probe is in response to a CNN story last week that showed the hospital had a 12.5 percent mortality rate for open heart surgery from 2011 through 2013 – three times the national average.
“We take these allegations very seriously. CMS is actively investigating these complaints,” Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, wrote in an email to CNN. The agency is investigating because most of the patients who had heart surgery at St. Mary’s were Medicaid patients.
On Friday, a federal official told CNN that “this is a serious situation.” The official added, “We want to make sure people are not exposed unnecessarily to harm.”
On Tuesday, yet another baby died at St. Mary’s following open heart surgery. The boy, Davi Ricardo Brandao, was the ninth to die under the care of the hospital and its surgeon, Dr. Michael Black. The child was only a few months old when he underwent surgery in March for a severe heart defect known as truncus arteriosus, according to his mother, Pautilia Gomes. Ms. Gomes told CNN Davi needed a second surgery later that month. In April, in response to an inquiry from CNN, St. Mary’s spokeswoman Shelly Weiss said a patient with truncus arteriosus at St. Mary’s was “recovering well and the prognosis is good.” Davi never left the hospital. He was only 2 months old when he died.
St. Mary’s CEO David Carbone insists that his facility’s death rate “is consistent with the national average, and does not significantly exceed the mortality rate of other programs as the CNN story alleges.” Carbone would not say what the hospital’s death rate is, or whether it included Davi’s death.
In April 2014, the Florida Department of Health sent a team of expert heart doctors to St. Mary’s to review the children’s heart surgery program. Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, a professor of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins and the head of the panel, suggested they stop doing heart surgeries on infants younger than 6 months old, according to CNN.
Jacobs noted that St. Mary’s only did 23 procedures during 2013. Most hospitals in the U.S. that perform surgeries do more than 100 per year, and anything less is considered low volume by the Society for Thoracic Surgeons, CNN reported.
Florida’s Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration issued a statement Wednesday in response to CNN’s investigation saying, “Florida does not regulate the number of procedures performed at pediatric cardiac programs” and that the Agency for Health Care Administration “continues to closely monitor St. Mary’s to ensure that they are following the law.”