After months of refusing to release mortality rates for its troubled pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program, the University of Kentucky reversed course Friday and issued a statement disclosing the numbers.
UK Healthcare CEO Michael Karpf said the program had an overall mortality rate of 5.8 percent from 2008 to 2012. During that period, annual mortality rates ranged from 4.5 percent in 2008 to 7.1 percent in 2012.
"These ranges are comparable to national mortality rates averaging 5.3 percent for programs of similar size to ours," Karpf said.
More than 500 people had signed an online petition in the past week urging UK to release information about how many children died after undergoing heart surgery at Kentucky Children's Hospital.
Tabitha Rainey started the petition on Change.org after she was interviewed by CNN about the experience that her son, Waylon Rainey, had at UK after cardiothoracic surgery. Waylon was moved to another hospital and survived. CNN identified two other babies who died.
"I'm happy that they are at least trying to put something out there," Rainey said Friday. "I feel like some of our efforts have been effective."
The petition had asked for UK to make public the mortality rates for pediatric cardiothoracic surgery patients from 2010, 2011 and 2012. That three-year span includes the tenure of Dr. Mark Plunkett, a cardiothoracic surgeon who came to UK from the UCLA medical center in 2007.
All pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries were suspended at UK last fall amid an internal review. Plunkett remained on staff, but UK announced last month that he had taken a job at the University of Florida.
The death rate for UK's pediatric cardiothoracic surgery patients in 2010 was 5.2 percent. It increased to 5.7 percent in 2011 and 7.1 percent in 2012.
Rainey said she thinks there should be a more extensive review of Kentucky Children's Hospital "by someone other than UK."
She estimated that about 20 additional parents had contacted her or other parents who spoke to CNN in recent days with concerns about the cardiothoracic surgery program at the hospital.
"Some of these cases need to be looked into," she said.
Rainey said the parents who have spoken out want to make sure that UK has "a top-notch program."
"We want to make sure that these kids have the best care that they can," she said.
Jennifer Allen's daughter Kalyn died at UK in 2012 after having several heart surgeries there.
"I'm happy to know that they finally came out with that information," Allen said Friday afternoon. "I don't understand why they couldn't have released them sooner."
In May, the state attorney general's office issued an opinion that said UK must release mortality rates and other data about the cardiothoracic surgery program to WUKY, the university-owned radio station. UK had previously acknowledged that it calculated mortality rates for the program as part of its internal review, but it had refused to release them, citing patient confidentiality laws.
WUKY and the Herald-Leader requested the data under the Kentucky Open Records Act, but UK has appealed the attorney general's ruling in Fayette Circuit Court.
On Friday, Karpf said the university was "hesitant" to release the information because it did not want to compromise patient privacy or "our approach to aggressive quality improvement."
"Today we are responding as fully as we can within what we believe federal law allows," Karpf said.
He said UK Healthcare reviews complaints about the quality of its patient care in a "no holds barred" manner.
"Sometimes we even choose to put a program on hold, until we are certain that we are doing everything necessary to provide the highest level of care," Karpf said. "This is what we did with our pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program."
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Friday that the university's internal review is continuing.
"Once the review is complete, the university will release as much data as federal and state law allow," Blanton said via email. "It's more important that such a process be done right than quickly."
He said a task force is working on a report that will "analyze what steps are necessary to make the improvements we all desire going forward."
Blanton said the mortality rates show that UK has "a good program" for children with heart problems. But UK wasn't satisfied with good, he said.
"We saw that on our own and made the voluntary decision to call a time-out to allow time — and the evaluation necessary — to make it better," Blanton said.
The overall mortality rate for pediatric cardiothoracic surgery patients at Kentucky Children's Hospital from 2008 to 2012 was 5.8 percent. The University of Kentucky says the national rate for similar-sized programs during that time period was 5.3 percent.
2008: 4.5 percent
2009: 6.2 percent
2010: 5.2 percent
2011: 5.7 percent
2012: 7.1 percent
Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.