UNC Children's Hospital pausing complex heart surgeries following critical report

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- UNC Health Care announced new initiatives to its pediatric heart surgery program Monday, including a pause on complex surgeries, following a report by the New York Times.

The Times reported last month that the hospital was experiencing unexpected complications even with lower-risk patients.

"Our pediatric heart program cares for very sick children with incredibly complex medical problems, and our clinical team works tirelessly to help those patients return to normal, healthy and productive lives," said Dr. Wesley Burks, CEO of UNC Health Care. "We grieve with families anytime there is a negative outcome, and we constantly push to learn from those tragic instances.
"I want to acknowledge in the sincerest way possible, that for our team and me personally, the death of any child is one too many," Burks continued. "These steps are part of a comprehensive effort to ensure UNC Health Care's mission to serve all North Carolinians with the highest quality care is."

The UNC Health Care Board of Directors have introduced new efforts to restore confidence in the program including:

  • Publicly releasing Society of Thoracic Surgeon's (STS) data on patient outcomes

  • Creating of an external advisory board of medical experts to examine efficacy of the pediatric heart surgery program and make recommendations for improvement. The members are expected to come from University of Southern California, the University of Michigan, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Nationwide Children's Hospital and will report to the UNC Health Care Board of Directors


  • Pausing the most complex pediatric congenital heart surgeries until the external advisory board reviews the program and issues a report

  • Creating a pediatric heart surgery family advisory council that will provide a voice for patients, family members and staff to hospital leadership

  • Recruiting additional physicians and care providers for the pediatric heart surgery program

  • Making incremental investments in technology to total $10 million over the two past years and next year

  • Developing a new structure to support hospital quality and safety reporting efforts with escalation processes to keep senior leadership informed


  • "The UNCHC Board of Directors and our leadership believe it is important to acknowledge the past time period when our survival rate was below the national average and share data previously used for our internal peer review," said Charlie Owen, Chair of UNC Health Care Board.

    The temporary procedure pause will halt some of the more complex surgeries focusing on repairing congenital heart defects in children.

    In a release, UNC said over the past 11 months, July 2018 through May 2019, the program performed 100 surgeries with a 97 percent survival rate.

    "While UNC Health Care and its Board of Directors have strong confidence in our extraordinary current pediatric heart surgery team, we believe it is vitally important that both current and future patients, our medical colleagues, key regulators, and the public share this confidence," Owen said.
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