Attorney general says UK should hand over records on children’s heart surgeries, which have been suspended pending review

Attorney General Jack Conway has ruled that the University of Kentucky hospital violated the state Open Records Act by refusing to give a reporter for the university-owned radio station records relating to the work of the chief of cardiothoracic surgery, who has stopped doing surgery on children. UK refused to let Conway’s staff examine the records to evaluate UK’s claimed need for confidentiality.

After inquiries by Brenna Angel of WUKY, “UK announced that the hospital had stopped performing
pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries pending an internal review,” John Cheves writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Angel reports that she sought records on Dr. Mark Plunkett, left, who was also director of the pediatric and congenital heart program: “the date of Plunkett’s last surgery, the mortality rate of
pediatric heart surgery cases, and documentation related to the
program’s review.” She sought no patient-specific information.

UK denied her request, citing the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and arguing that release of the information could lead to the identification of one or more patients because Plunkett was doing so few surgeries on children. It also cited HIPAA in refusing to let Conway’s staff review the records. Conway rejected that argument, noting that HIPAA does not supersede state laws and even make allowances for them.

Because it deals with the Open Records Act, Conway’s decision has the force of law. UK can appeal the decision to circuit court within 30 days of March 27, the date of the decision. “UK spokesman Jay Blanton says officials are considering whether to file an appeal,” Angel reports. The decision was publicly released Monday, the same day UK held a press conference about “the
progress UK Healthcare has made in cardiology,” she notes. “Yet the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program remains
under review, and patients from Central and Eastern Kentucky are being
referred to hospitals out of state. Dr. Mark Plunkett remains on staff.”

When Angel asked Dr. Michael Karpf, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs, to comment, he replied, “We’ll have something to say about that in a little while.” Cheves notes, “UK recruited Plunkett, a
noted surgeon at the University of California at Los Angeles, in 2007 to
strengthen its pediatric heart program. He makes $700,000 a year, one
of the highest salaries at UK.” (Read more)

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