Two S. Jersey Hospital Heart Deaths Higher Than Expected, State Reports

Cooper University Hospital and Deborah Heart and Lung Center — two of the three hospitals with open heart surgery programs in South Jersey — had higher than expected death rates for bypass surgeries in 2007, according a state report released Tuesday.

The annual Cardiac Surgery report by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services found that the overall 30-day death rate for patients after heart bypass surgery was stable at 2 percent.

Heart bypasses accounted for 4,943 of the 8,460 open heart procedures performed at 18 hospitals in the state that year. Check out the full report here.

Deborah’s president and CEO John Ernst rejected the findings of the heart surgery report card, noting that the state now lumps together simple bypasses with more complex procedures.

The change “negatively impacted Deborah, as not every hospital in the state has the capability nor skilled surgical teams to perform these additional procedures,” Ernst said. “Deborah is concerned that these changes … may have a chilling effect on the ability to provide care to the sickest of patients.”

John P. Sheridan, Jr., president and CEO of Cooper said that while the idea of a report care is a good one, the data in the cardiac surgery report are more than two years old and do not reflect a complete revamping of his hospitals program over that time.

Those changes Sheridan said included an entirely new team of surgeons, a significant growth in procedures performed, declining death rates for bypasses (2.5 percent in 2008 and 2.1 percent in 2009), a top national ranking by the Society of Thoracic Surgery.

The risk-adjusted death rate of heart patients at Our Lady of Lourdes in Camden was in the expected range. The hospital’s average length of stay of 7.2 days was the highest in the state.

Pennsylvania’s annual report on heart surgery which includes valve procedures as well as bypasses was released in August 2009. Brandywine Hospital in Chester County was the only one in the five-county Philadelphia region to have a higher-than-expected death rate among heart bypass patients in 2007.

Overall, the death rate for bypasses — in which surgeons use vessels to shunt blood around a heart blockage — in Pennsylvania fell slightly to 1.75 percent of the 10,166 cases that the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council examined. The Pennsylvania report is available here or you can use this interactive database to create your own report.

Poonam Alaigh, commissioner of health in New Jersey, praised the efforts to improve heart surgery in the Garden state’s hospitals.

Alaigh said one area that needed additional work was reducing the number of preventable infections.

The New Jersey report found that heart patients that contracted so-called hospital-acquired infections — those that develop during care — had much higher death rates and stayed in hospitals longer.

The average length of stay for bypass patients with infections was 18.2 days compared with 6.7 days for those who didn’t have one. And of the 391 patients who got such infections, 45 — or 11.5 percent — died within 30 days of their surgery compared with a 1.2 percent death rate for those who did not develop an infection.

“We must continue striving to make cardiac surgery as safe as possible, for example by working to reduce the occurrence of potentially deadly infections,” commissioner Alaigh said.