Should you always trust the “superstar” doctor who oversees the team saving your child’s life? Some families have learned the devastating truth: that hospitals do not always act in the best interest of those in their care. Today, families across Florida are picking up the pieces of their lives after their children suffered severe injuries or death while under the care of Florida hospitals.
St. Mary’s Medical Center’s Pediatric Heart Surgery Debacle
In 2013, a string of infant deaths caused by heart procedures at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach compelled the medical community to question the hospital’s ability to perform complex heart surgeries on babies. CNN investigated the hospital and determined that St. Mary’s post-surgical mortality rate was three times higher than the national average. Something was going very wrong in the pediatric cardiology department at St. Mary’s.
Regardless, St. Mary’s continued to perform surgeries that went against the recommendations of experts who evaluated the hospital. The Pediatric Congenital Cardiac Surgery program at St. Mary’s continued to botch complicated surgeries and failed to scale back, despite an alarmingly high rate of failure. Even though experts said they should not perform complicated surgeries, the department continued to do so.
In some cases, families were fortunate enough to have their babies transferred to hospitals with experienced pediatric heart surgeons. Under new care, some of these children recovered. Others did not.
After CNN released details of its investigation, St. Mary’s disputed the investigation’s claim that the hospital had an infant mortality rate of 12.5 percent after cardiac surgeries. Instead, it claimed a rate closer to the national average at 4.7 percent. CNN fought back against the hospital’s claims and stood by its initial reporting.
2019: John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Releases Internal Review After Controversy
In April of 2018, the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation of John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. The report followed the story of Katelynn Whipple, a newborn who had a needle in her heart after a procedure at the hospital. The doctor who performed the surgery denied that it happened—another doctor at a different hospital took just 30 minutes to find it lodged in the young girl’s aorta.
To make matters worse, the Times found out that a second child had the same experience as Katelynn did. After a slew of missteps by the hospital’s Heart Institute surfaced, numerous officials from All Children’s stepped down. After looking at hospital records from before John Hopkins took over the hospital in 2011, the Times found the hospital’s fatality rate tripled from 2015 to 2017. Supervisors ignored medical workers who reported that children were being placed at risk as far back as 2015. Like St. Mary’s, the hospital did not halt complex pediatric heart surgeries for over a year.
John Hopkins in Damage Control
John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital released an internal review in early February. Their review found that 13 children suffered injuries while under the care of the hospital’s heart unit. The review found that the former leaders of the facility failed to notify the John Hopkins board of trustees of the hospital’s issues. Now, John Hopkins president Kevin Sowers promises that the hospital will make the necessary changes to fix the problems in the heart unit. Sowers ultimately blamed the lack of transparency across the multiple boards which govern All Children’s. He promises that John Hopkins will be more transparent from now on.
The president of John Hopkins also revealed that the hospital paid citations for 13 instances in which it failed to provide proper medical care to children. However, despite the Times reporting two instances where needles were left in children’s hearts last year, the Agency for Health Care Administration failed to investigate the hospital further.
Employees who worked at the hospital before John Hopkins acquired it are frustrated over the broken trust between the hospital and the community they serve. Sowers vows this relationship will recover through honest practices, and he promises to work in the best interest of the children and not John Hopkins.
Ultimately, these hospitals actions highlight the responsibility of healthcare institutions to their patients—and the damage they cause when they fail to live up to their responsibilities. Patients don’t have the training to understand when they’ve been the victim of medical malpractice, babies especially. Hospitals and their administrators must monitor themselves vigilantly and inform the public when they fail. Just as importantly, they must be willing to bear the financial consequences of their own mistakes.
Only Two Years to Get Justice
Families who may have been the victims of medical malpractice need to remember one thing: they only have a two-year window to file a claim for malpractice. If a family does not begin pursuing a medical malpractice claim within the two-year statute of limitations, they may lose their chance at justice forever.That’s why families who have been victimized by bad medical care should immediately call for an investigation into what happened. For the children discovered by these investigations, we hope their families seek and find some measure of justice against the administrators and practitioners who caused them harm.