Lawsuit over 3-year-old patient's death says UNC Children's failed to disclose heart surgery issues

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 5 against UNC Children's Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C., the parents of a 3-year-old patient who died after heart surgery claim the hospital did not disclose internal concerns about its care quality, The New York Times reports.

In 2016, Tasha and Thomas Jones' daughter underwent a low-risk procedure at UNC to repair a heart defect. The girl suffered complications and died two months later at the state-owned facility. On Dec. 5, the Joneses filed a complaint against four UNC physicians and another against the University of North Carolina health system regarding the death of their daughter.

The couple claims hospital system leaders knew the pediatric cardiac surgery program "fell far below acceptable standards, yet UNC systematically failed to disclose this fact to current and potential patients, and failed to take reasonable measures to improve the system."

The other complaint alleges UNC physicians didn't warn about issues with the heart program, and instead continued to refer patients "to protect their own reputational and monetary interests."

In 2016-17 meetings, all nine of the hospital's pediatric cardiologists voiced concerns about the program, according to audio recordings cited by the NYT in May. Some physicians asked for the program's mortality data, but the hospital didn't have such information at the time.

This June, the hospital released data revealing a death rate around 50 percent for children undergoing the most complex heart procedures, according to the NYT. Mortality rates continued to rise even after cardiologists expressed concern about the program's safety and quality.

After the original NYT investigation, UNC suspended its most complex heart surgeries and implemented an external advisory board. The board has since allowed the hospital to resume complex surgeries. In August, regulators said the hospital was in compliance with federal rules, a CMS spokesperson told the NYT.

At the time, UNC administrators denied problems regarding patient care, citing difficult team dynamics that had since been resolved by staffing and leadership changes, the NYT reports.

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