One in four newborns died after undergoing high-risk heart operations that were performed from 2009 to 2014 at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, according to an analysis of insurance claims data by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Out of the 121 newborns who underwent heart surgery at St. Christopher's during that time frame, 29 died, making for a 24% mortality rate.
Conversely, at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 67 of 784 newborns in the analysis died in the same time frame, for a mortality rate of 8.5%, the newspaper reported. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's outcomes on the operations generally meet or exceed national norms, the Inquirer said.
The newspaper began its investigation into St. Christopher's after the hospital refused last year to reveal how many of its heart surgery patients died. Those numbers were supposed to be part of a first-ever evaluation of programs in Pennsylvania, conducted by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. The study relied on clinical data collected by nurses, physicians and other caregivers, which is not available to the public. St. Christopher's was the only one of six hospitals not included in the evaluation, and that led to the Inquirer's investigation of the insurance claims data.
Then last month, St. Christopher's stopped performing non-emergency heart surgery pending internal review. The hospital did not reveal the reason behind the move, only saying it is making progress growing volumes and improving performance, the Inquirer said.
St. Christopher's did not address the newspaper's data analysis and instead provided a four-year summary of heart operations on children of all ages, not just newborns. That summary included procedures that are less risky than those performed on newborns, the Inquirer said.
St. Christopher's did not respond to a request for comment from Modern Healthcare.
The mortality rate for the broader group was 7.4% from mid-2011 to mid-2015, and recently had improved. The national mortality rate for all children undergoing heart surgery is 3.3%, according to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.
For hospitals performing pediatric heart surgery, transparency about outcomes and data is a national issue. Of the 125 or so U.S. hospitals that perform pediatric heart surgery, only 33 publicly share their results on a website maintained by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, a national patient advocacy group, is holding a meeting with physicians and administrators this month in Florida on strategies to improve transparency.
St. Christopher's isn't the only hospital under scrutiny for its surgeries on babies. Last June, the federal government launched an official investigation into reports of at least nine babies dying since 2011 after undergoing open-heart surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.