Fayette County

UK violated open-records law in hospital case, attorney general rules

University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and Kentucky Children's Hospital.  Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and Kentucky Children's Hospital. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky violated the state Open Records Act by refusing to release documents about surgeries at Kentucky Children's Hospital, the state attorney general's office has ruled.

In December, UK announced that the hospital had stopped performing pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries pending an internal review. But UK has provided no further information.

Brenna Angel, a reporter at WUKY-FM 91.3 in Lexington, submitted a records request to UK on Dec. 11 for performance and payment documents for Dr. Mark Plunkett, chief of cardiothoracic surgery, who performed the surgeries; mortality data for the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program; and evaluation and accreditation records for the surgery program.

UK refused to provide Angel with some of the requested documents, citing federal patient privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA.

However, UK was wrong to cite HIPAA because Angel did not request individual patient information, Assistant Attorney General James Herrick wrote in his ruling in favor of Angel. Even if she had, Herrick wrote, "This office has repeatedly ruled that HIPAA does not pre-empt the Kentucky Open Records Act. ... We have consistently held that HIPAA defers to the state Open Records Act and is therefore no obstacle to the public's access to public records under the act."

The attorney general's opinion carries the weight of law in open records cases, although it can be appealed to circuit court. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Monday that the university was reviewing its legal options. The hospital's internal review of the surgery program continues, Blanton said.

UK recruited Plunkett, a noted surgeon at the University of California at Los Angeles, in 2007 to strengthen its pediatric heart program. He makes $700,000 a year, one of the highest salaries at UK.

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