UNC Health Care will be taking several steps, including pausing some complex pediatric heart surgeries, to “restore confidence in its pediatric heart surgery program.”
The health care system announced the initiatives on Monday, after a New York Times investigation published on May 31 detailed concern regarding the quality of care some children with serious heart issues received at the UNC Children’s Hospital.
UNC Health Care will now publicly share Society for Thoracic Surgeons’ data on patient outcomes, create an external advisory board to make recommendations for improvement, create a new pediatric heart surgery family advisory council, recruit additional physicians for the heart surgery team, invest $10 million in technology and other enhancements over a three-year period and develop a new system to “support our Hospital Quality and Safety reporting efforts.”
UNC Children’s will also “temporarily pause repairing congenital heart defects in children,” according to Monday’s release.
“While UNC Health Care and its Board of Directors have strong confidence in our extraordinary current pediatric heart surgery team, we believe it is vitally important that both current and future patients, our medical colleagues, key regulators, and the public share this confidence,” chair of the UNC Health Care Board Charlie Owen said in the release.
Owen added that the hospital would wait for the final report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before conducting more of these surgeries.
“We will resume performance of these surgeries only after both regulators and the esteemed physicians on the Advisory Board agree it is appropriate,” UNC Health Care CEO Dr. Wesley Burks said.
UNC Hospitals will also be making more data publicly available. Officials said the health care system has shared mortality data from the pediatric heart surgery program with STS since 2005.
“UNC previously used its STS data for internal peer review and performance improvement efforts,” according to the release. But that data will now be publicly available. A current STS analysis is available on the UNC Children’s website.
The release goes on to say that it “is extremely difficult to evaluate a surgical program’s success based solely upon data that is risk-adjusted by the STS, we are releasing past data to help restore public confidence in the program, and will continue to do so in the future.”
UNC Health Care officials acknowledge that “there were past periods, in which for the most complex cases, survival rates were lower than the national average.” The release adds, “while survival rates for less complex cases were higher than the national average.”
The health care system attributes “personnel changes and other improvements” for “very strong” data from the past year.
Burks said these steps will help further UNC Health Care’s mission to serve North Carolinians.
“Our pediatric heart program cares for very sick children with incredibly complex medical problems, and our clinical team works tirelessly to help those patients return to normal, healthy and productive lives. We grieve with families anytime there is a negative outcome, and we constantly push to learn from those tragic instances.
“I want to acknowledge in the sincerest way possible, that for our team and me personally, the death of any child is one too many,” Burks continued. “These steps are part of a comprehensive effort to ensure UNC Health Care’s mission to serve all North Carolinians with the highest quality care is.”