Surgeon who oversaw suspended UK HealthCare program lands Florida job

Dr. Mark Plunkett, from a March 2012 news conference in Lexington.
Dr. Mark Plunkett, from a March 2012 news conference in Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

Dr. Mark Plunkett, a celebrated cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Kentucky whose surgery program was suspended for unknown reasons, has accepted a job at the University of Florida, according to UK.

Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president for health affairs, said Thursday that an internal review of UK HealthCare's pediatric cardiothoracic program should be completed in the next few weeks.

Plunkett stopped doing surgeries late in 2012, but remained on staff at his $700,000 annual salary, one of the highest on campus, according to UK records. Since then, pediatric patients requiring complicated surgery on organs inside the chest have been referred to other hospitals out of state.

Karpf said the review was undertaken to make sure UK provides "first class surgeries."

"We wanted to see if we needed to do things better ... let's take a time out, let's evaluate what it needs to make it better," he said.

Karpf said he expected most of the review to be made public.

Secrecy over the review has prompted a flurry of legal action.

In May, the state attorney general's office issued an opinion that said UK must release the mortality rates and other data about the program to WUKY, the university-owned radio station. UK has acknowledged that it calculated mortality rates for its pediatric cardiothoracic program as part of its investigation, but has refused to release them.

WUKY and the Lexington Herald-Leader requested the data under the Kentucky Open Records Act, but UK has appealed the attorney general's ruling in Fayette Circuit Court.

Karpf said it isn't surprising that Plunkett has been hired elsewhere because he's a "top flight" surgeon.

According to his UK biography, Plunkett was director of UK's pediatric cardiac program and a co-director of UK's Gill Heart Institute. He came to UK in 2007 from the UCLA medical center, where he worked with Karpf, who directed that medical center before coming to Lexington.

Plunkett submitted his resignation effective Aug. 14, UK officials said. Plunkett did not respond to calls for comment left at his home and office Thursday.

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