If you live in Florida, you may be familiar with St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. What you may not be familiar with, along with multiple grieving parents, is that St. Mary’s has long been associated with a shockingly high rate of death in its pediatric heart surgery department. In fact, so many parents are now claiming that they had no idea their children were so at risk at this hospital that a CNN investigation has put St. Mary’s into the national spotlight.
On June 1, CNN aired the results of an in-depth investigation into the children’s heart surgery program at St. Mary’s. According to this report, the mortality rate for this program was 12.5% between 2011 and 2013—three times higher than the national average rare of deaths for children’s heart surgery. At the time of this broadcast, eight children had died as a result of heart surgery at St. Mary’s. Tragically, a ninth infant died just one day after this issue was brought to light by the CNN episode.
The hospital immediately disputed the figures presented by CNN, stating that their mortality rate was actually much lower than the show had reported. Nonetheless, St. Mary’s did not state what the true mortality rate was. In fact, CNN investigators had to access this information through the Freedom of Information Act because “St. Mary’s does not publicly report its mortality rate”.
Sadly, it now appears that even the parents of babies and small children scheduled to undergo heart surgery at St. Mary’s were not warned of the high death rate at this hospital. One mother even told CNN that her son’s doctor, Dr. Michael Black of St. Mary’s, told her he had only had one patient die in pediatric heart surgery. Actually, it turned out that her son was the sixth patient Dr. Black lost in this type of procedure at St. Mary’s.
The truth is that when Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, a professor of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins, investigated the pediatric heart surgery at St. Mary’s on behalf of the Florida Department of Health last year he recommended that the hospital discontinue heart surgery on children younger than 6 months. He stated that the hospital did not conduct enough of these types of procedures to be proficient, and also cited St. Mary’s poor reputation, stating, “It is common knowledge that multiple pediatric cardiac surgeons … have expressed serious concern about babies having complex pediatric cardiac surgery [at] St. Mary’s Medical Center.”
As a result of the recent CNN investigation and subsequent media attention, St. Mary’s has opted to discontinue elective surgeries until their surgical program is reviewed. In the meantime, at least nine families are grieving the loss of their babies and wondering if they have any legal options.