Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

August 7, 2013

UK secrecy now on the national stage


Aug. 7, 2013 — We criticized the University of Kentucky three months ago for withholding information about suspected problems in its College of Medicine.

In fact, we asked if UK had forgotten about higher education’s historic commitment to a free and open search for truth.

At the time, UK had sued a reporter from its own public radio station, WUKY, rather than abide by an opinion from the Attorney General’s office that is should release information requested by WUKY’s Brenna Angel under the state open records law.

But now that problem has emerged in the national media with a lead story last weekend on CNN about the deaths of infants following surgery at UK.

As it did in May, the university chose not to be transparent about a high-profile program that was shut down last year – without explanation – at its medical center.

In our opinion, UK should be totally forthcoming and abandon its strategy of hiding behind claims of patient confidentiality.

This matter actually began in 2007 when Dr. Mark Plunkett became chief of cardiothoracic surgery at UK.

His salary of $700,000 a year was justified by UK because he was a highly-regarded specialist in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery.

In late 2012, the university said Plunkett was no longer performing surgeries until an internal review could be conducted.

As of Sunday when UK responded to CNN, that review apparently is still underway.

Ms. Angel used the state open records law in her work on an investigative story on the Plunkett situation.

She asked how many surgeries he had done in the last three years, when was the last surgery, what payments had been received for surgeries in 2010 and 2011, what was the mortality rate on pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries in the last three years and had the program been externally evaluated in that period of time.

She did not ask for names of patients or any other identifying information about patients.

UK responded with the number of surgeries and payments received but nothing else, saying it was bound by patient confidentiality.

The attorney general’s office asked UK to provide the requested records for confidential review but again was denied.

In March, the AG said UK was in violation of the open records law and reminded the institution that open records laws usually supersede patient privacy laws in such cases.

By again stonewalling full disclosure and ignoring the law, UK has created more suspicion that it has something to hide.

Kentucky’s citizens deserve better from their flagship public university.