Resigned heart surgeon wins settlement from UK, which plans to upgrade program he left but won’t say why it was suspended

Dr. Mark Plunkett

The University of Kentucky will pay Dr. Mark Plunkett more than $1 million as part of a settlement after Plunkett’s pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program at UK was suspended for reasons still unclear.

The agreement with the heart surgeon comes after UK Healthcare was accused of hiding information about both the pediatric heart surgery program’s suspension and about its surgery-related deaths. Statistics were released regarding the program’s mortality rates, but reasons for its suspension remain unclear.

UK’s settlement agreement with Plunkett, which the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained under Kentucky’s Open Records Act, says he will receive salary supplements over two years to make up the possible difference between his former UK salary of $700,000 and future annual earnings. He is required to make efforts to find employment.

Plunkett will receive at least $1.05 million but no more than a total of $1.75 million, reports Linda Blackford of the Herald-Leader. In addition to this larger payment, if he is unemployed, as he now is, UK will pay him $350,000 a year between May 1, 2015 and April, 30, 2017. The settlement also calls for Plunkett’s agreement not to speak to the news media.

Read more here:’s agreement not to speak to the media,

Plunkett came to UK in 2007 from the UCLA Medical Center and was the chief cardiothoracic surgeon before the pediatric program was suspended. In July of this year, Plunkett accepted a new job at the University of Florida, which was scheduled to begin Sept. 1. However, UF officials recently says it was in their “best interests” to for them to part ways.

After suspending the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program, Blackford writes, “UK waged a legal battle to keep the mortality rates for Plunkett’s program secret. But after CNN ran a lengthy story on the topic in August and identified two babies who died, UK voluntarily released the mortality rates.” She also says UK officials declined to comment on the settlement, except to say it would be paid out of clinical revenues, not state revenues.

UK Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. Michael Karpf convened a task force and charged it with providing recommendations regarding the future of the program. The nearly 30-member taskforce released a report Friday that outlined a series of steps that will be taken in the coming months to re-open it, says a UK news release.

The more than 100-page report assesses the program and offers recommendations to re-institute it without providing specific details about why it was suspended in the first place. Click here for more information.

After an initial fight, UK did release mortality statistics for pediatric heart surgery program in August. The mortality rates at UK averaged 5.8 percent, ranging from 5.2 percent to 7.1 from 2010 to 2012. UK said the numbers were comparable to the national average of 5.3 percent for programs of similar size, reports WKYT-TV.

UK officials remain positive about the program’s outlook. “Our current patient care ranking of 12th among the nation’s university health systems is a reflection of the dedication and skill of our nurses, doctors and staff, as well as, their unrelenting pursuit of improvement,” Karpf said. “That’s the kind of commitment we will bring to re-instituting this program as well.”

Meanwhile, UK’s Chandler Medical Center was named a “rising star” among academic health-care facilities.

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